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Refinery Faces $720K in EPA Fines

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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Six years after a deadly explosion at a Washington state refinery, the federal agency responsible for protecting human health and the environment has filed a complaint against the Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company for alleged violations uncovered in later inspections.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported this month that it had uncovered alleged violations of federal chemical accident prevention and emergency planning rules during two EPA inspections at the Anacortes, WA, facility in 2011.

While the violations reportedly did not result in any injuries, Ed Kowalski, director of EPA’s Office of Compliance & Enforcement in Seattle, noted that refineries have a special obligation to their workforce and local community to do everything possible to maintain impeccable operational safety.

Tesoro refinery Anacortes, WA
By Walter Siegmund / CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

The EPA has filed a complaint against Tesoro Refining regarding alleged violations of the agency's federal chemical accident prevention and emergency planning rules; the violations carry a penalty of nearly $720,000.

“There’s no room for error when you’re processing this volume and mix of chemicals,” Kowalski said. “Petroleum refiners and their workers must understand and carefully follow regulations designed to protect people, our communities and our environment from potentially catastrophic accidents.”

The complaint carries a proposed $718,361 penalty.

Risk Management Plan Requirements

Eight separate processes at Tesoro’s Anacortes facility are covered under the EPA Risk Management Program—part of the Clean Air Act—which focuses on training, operational maintenance and safety planning, the agency said.

Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act requires all public and private facilities that manufacture, process, use, store or otherwise handle greater than a threshold amount of a regulated substance(s) to develop a Risk Management Program and submit Risk Management Plans (RMPs).

Specific items required by the Risk Management Program include: development of an emergency response or action plan; hazard evaluation of a “worst case” and “more probable case” chemical release; operator training; review of the hazards associated with using toxic or flammable substances; and operating procedures and equipment maintenance.

Inadequate Risk Management Planning

According to the EPA, Tesoro’s Anacortes facility handles thousands of pounds of chemicals, such as isobutane, pentane, and hydrogen every day. The refining process combines these chemicals into a flammable mix that can cause catastrophic harm to workers, the environment and surrounding communities if RMP requirements aren’t closely followed.

The EPA complaint, filed April 14, outlines seven violations ranging from incomplete or inadequate written process safety information to operational deviations and hazards to not making written operating procedures easily accessible to employees.

The alleged violations were recorded during EPA inspections to determine Tesoro’s compliance with the RMP requirements in January and October 2011.

Tesoro refinery, Anacortes, WA
By Walter Siegmund / CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Tesoro's alleged violations range from incomplete or inadequate written process safety information to operational deviations and hazards to not making written operating procedures easily accessible to employees.

The Clean Air Act authorize a civil administrative penalty of up to $37,500 per day for each violation; however, after taking several factors under consideration, such as full compliance history and good faith efforts to comply, the agency settled on $718,361 as the amount of the administrative penalty to be assessed against Tesoro.

'Fully Committed to Safety'

Brendan Smith, Tesoro’s media relations spokesperson, told PaintSquare News Tuesday (April 26) that Tesoro is fully committed to the safety of its employees and the surrounding community.
 
“EPA first raised these claims with Tesoro in November 2013 based on inspections conducted in 2011,” Smith said. “It is important to note that EPA does not claim that any of the violations it alleges have caused any safety incidents. Tesoro has voluntarily provided substantive information to EPA, including relevant documentation concerning EPA’s claims.”

Moreover, he said, the company has fully cooperated with EPA’s inspections, including producing documents, making employees available for interviews and providing EPA with workspace.

“We believe the EPA’s claims are wrong on the facts and the law, and we look forward to continuing our discussions with EPA in defense of the allegations,” Smith added.

The company has 30 days to file a written Answer to the Complaint and request a hearing with an administrative law judge or resolve the proceeding at any time by paying the specific penalty proposed in the complaint and by filing with the Regional Hearing Clerk a copy of the check or other instrument of payment.

Company History

Tesoro, which operates six refineries in five western states and Alaska with a combined capacity of 875,000 barrels per day, is in its fifth year of appealing the $2.4 million in fines levied against it by the state for the 2010 explosion, Seattle radio station KUOW.org noted.

As previously reported, the explosion that occurred April 2, 2010, resulted in a fire that claimed the lives of seven. A report issued by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in 2014 determined that the refinery experienced a “catastrophic rupture of a heat exchanger in the Catalytic Reformer/Naphtha Hydrotreater unit” as a result of High Temperature Hydrogen Attack (HTHA).

In its 160-page report, CSB listed recommendations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Washington legislature and governor; L&I; the American Petroleum Institute; Tesoro; and the United Steelworkers union to address a variety of issues that led to the explosion so that future failures, such as the one that occurred in Anacortes, don’t happen somewhere else.

Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery has a total crude-oil capacity of 120,000 barrels per day. The refinery primarily supplies gasoline, jet fuel and diesel to markets in Washington and Oregon, and manufactures heavy fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas and asphalt. There are 350 employees working onsite.

   

Tagged categories: Clean Air Act; Enforcement; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; Oil and Gas; Risk management; Safety; Violations

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