As part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice, the Tesoro refinery in Nikiski will spend millions of dollars to reduce emissions that are potentially harmful to public health and the environment.
In a settlement agreement announced Monday, Tesoro and Par Hawaii Refining will pay fines and institute mitigation measures totaling $425 million to address pollution problems at six refineries.
The alleged violations occurred over several years. At the Tesoro Kenai refinery, the oldest alleged violation was from 2002.
“The violations were fairly numerous,” John Keenan said. Keenan is a Clean Air Act enforcement officer with the EPA in Seattle, speaking about problems at the Kenai refinery. He said there were two main sources of violations. One is leak detection and repair.
“There are requirements under the Clear Air Act that the facility go through the refinery with a handheld device and look for leaks in various pieces of equipment in the piping,” Keenan said. “And when they find leaks to repair them as expeditiously as they can. We found a number of instances where they were not following the requirements for that program.”
The other main problem is with flaring, which is done to burn off excess gas the facility wasn’t using, or as an emergency safety measure.
“We allege that they made changes to the refinery that increased the volume of gas that’s going to the flare that should have undergone permitting,” Keenan said.
Under the settlement, the Kenai refinery must comply with the leak detection program, checking lines, seals and other equipment, and repairing any leaks found as soon as possible.
To remedy emissions from flaring, the refinery has begun installing $60 million worth of equipment that will capture and reroute the gasses going to the flare back into the refinery’s fuel system, Keenan said.
He says that another required project has already been completed. Equipment that handles wastewater was replaced a few years ago.
All that work should result in a reduction of emissions totaling around 289 tons of volatile organic compounds a year. About 6 tons of that is estimated to be hazardous air pollutants.
He said he can’t quantify the public health risk posed by the emissions violations.
The EPA complaint does cite several volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants in emissions and leaks identified at the refinery that can adversely affect health and the environment. They include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and benzene.
Under the settlement, Tesoro Kenai will undergo two independent facility audits to check for compliance. The first has already been completed, Keenan said, with the second due years from now.
The refinery also is required to utilize “next-generation compliance tools,” specifically, a $100,000 infrared camera.
Keenan said the settlement is the culmination of a long process.
“The company expressed an interest in not pursuing this through the courts, due to the time and expense of that effort, and, so, we’ve come to this agreement of what the company will do in order to resolve those allegations,” Keenan said.
In all, Tesoro and Par Hawaii must spend more than $400 million in mitigation measures. Tesoro will spend an additional $12 million on environmental projects, and pay just about $10.5 million in fines.
Tesoro did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday.