EPA Orders St. Croix Refinery Chemical Removal


After an inspection identified several safety concerns, including pipe corrosion, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency entered a legal agreement with Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation LLLP (PHRT) to safely remove chemicals not being properly managed at the facility in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to the Agency’s release, the Order on Consent requires access for the EPA to be onsite and oversee the work, ensuring safety measures in the short term until the chemicals are removed or secured.

“Ensuring the communities near this refinery are protected is front and center in all our work. This consent order will ensure the removal of the ammonia, liquified petroleum gas and other chemicals,” said Lisa F. Garcia, EPA Regional Administrator. 

“We are holding this facility to the same standards that we hold any refinery or industrial facility – meaning they must not pose a serious risk to workers or community members, and they must follow our environmental laws. EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, and our commitment to advance Environmental Justice in this community is unwavering.”

What Happened

Formerly known as the Limetree Bay Terminals and Limetree Bay Refining, LLC, the refinery is located in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and was formerly the largest in the Western Hemisphere. It was expected to boost overall supply in the Caribbean, a key transit point for petroleum shipments, when it was built in the 1960s by Hess Oil.

However, the refinery was ordered by the EPA to pause all operations in May 2021, following multiple air emissions incidents due to the imminent and substantial endangerment to public health or welfare of the environment posed by continued refinery operation. 

Since February 2021, the refinery reportedly experienced multiple major mishaps resulting in significant air pollutant and oil releases. The May case resulted in a “serious incident” that led to exceedance of the emission limit for sulfur dioxide (SO2), a potent toxic gas, endangering the health of nearby communities. 

“These repeated incidents at the refinery have been and remain totally unacceptable. Today, I have ordered the refinery to immediately pause all operations until we can be assured that this facility can operate in accordance with laws that protect public health,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan at the time of its shutdown.

“This already overburdened community has suffered through at least four recent incidents that have occurred at the facility, and each had an immediate and significant health impact on people and their property. EPA will not hesitate to use its authority to enforce the law and protect people from dangerous pollution where they work, live, and play.”

That order was then reportedly augmented and extended by the compliant and stipulation filed in July 2021.

The West Indies Petroleum Limited and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, LLLP (jointly WIPL/PHRT) then won the bid for the Limetree Bay refinery from an auction held in bankruptcy court on December 21, 2021, for $62 million.

In March of this year, the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA transmitted letters to WIPL/PHRT, summarizing a number of requirements to be met before restarting the refinery. Later that month, the EPA said, based on the information available to them, the refinery would potentially need to obtain a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit prior to any potential startup of refinery operations.

A PSD permit limits emissions to levels that would result from the best available air pollution control technology. The EPA said this would likely result in significant reductions of emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals, and reductions in sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter at the facility.

The EPA also reportedly asked for additional information from WIPL and PHRT regarding past and future changes to process and emission units at the refinery. This would enable the Agency to evaluate the issue further before making a final determination regarding the need for a PSD permit. 

In September, the EPA inspected the facility to more broadly determine the general state of chemical safety at the facility. During the inspection, the Agency noted serious deficiencies in the way that this facility is being maintained.

These safety concerns included corrosion of piping and valves, which could result in a chemical release or fire, particularly where large quantities of ammonia, LPG, and amine and hydrogen sulfide are located. The full inspection report detailing the deficiencies can be found here.

As a result of the inspection, the EPA determined in November that the refinery could not resume operations without obtaining a new comprehensive PSD Permit, under the Clean Air Act. The new permit would require detailed air quality analyses and the use of the best available air pollution control technology.

In addition to the permit considerations, the EPA noted that it was continuing oversight of the facility, actively discussing the chemical safety issues with the company and determining next steps to address the issues.

What Now

Under a consent order using Clean Air Act authorities, PHRT will remove all ammonia, liquified petroleum gas (or LPG), amines and hydrogen sulfide from the equipment at the facility. These chemicals have been used for refining processes.

Additionally, beginning immediately, the agreement requires PHRT to take certain interim measures during the period before the materials are addressed, including increased monitoring and inspections of the systems containing the amine, ammonia and LPG, and actions to improve emergency preparedness. 

The EPA reports that over 40,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia are reported to be at the refinery, with equipment containing over 37,000 pounds of LPG. The piping and many valves on the LPG unit are reportedly in an advanced state of corrosion and disrepair.

The legal agreement requires the work the work to be performed by a qualified contractor to assess the systems containing anhydrous ammonia, LPG, amine and hydrogen sulfide and determine how to safely remove those chemicals. Once the contractor is approved by the EPA, they will have 30 days to perform an assessment of the three systems and propose options for the chemicals’ safe removal.

Then, the contractor will provide its options report to the EPA within seven days of completing those actions. Afterwards, the EPA will review the report and provide comments, with work on the removal starting within five days of the EPA’s approval.

The order also requires reports to be submitted to EPA during and upon the completion of work. The order provides for the EPA’s oversight of all work and contains enforcement provisions.

“Today’s action addresses the most serious of those issues first and EPA will continue its work to address other environmental issues at the refinery going forward,” wrote the Agency.

Additionally, the EPA has set up a toll-free community hotline at 866-462-4789, developed a dedicated website and is reportedly engaging regularly with the community regarding the refinery.


Tagged categories: Construction chemicals; Corrosion; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Refineries; Regulations; Safety

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