HOUSTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice fined BP PLC $15 million on Thursday for Clean Air Act violations at its Texas City refinery, adding to the oil company's troubles as it struggles to clean up the damage caused by its massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The fine, the largest civil Clean Air Act penalty given to a U.S. facility, resulted from a settlement between the EPA and BP and is subject to court approval.
BP's Texas City refinery, the company's largest in the United States, was also fined $87 million by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for problems found there after a March 2005 explosion killed 15 people and injured about 170 others. More recently, the Texas attorney general and the EPA launched an investigation into a 40-day benzene leak at the facility.
The latest violations resulted from three incidents in 2004 and 2005 that forced Texas City residents to remain indoors while thousands of pounds of flammable and toxic pollutants were released into the air. The settlement also deals with allegations that BP had failed to identify all the regulated air pollutants used at the facility in the plans it submitted to the EPA.
BP said in a statement that no injuries or serious illnesses resulted from the leak and two fires mentioned in the settlement. The deal helps BP reduce risks should similar events occur in the future, the statement said. The company also said it has incorporated lessons learned from these events into its training and has expanded its reporting to the EPA.
"These are key elements of process safety management and have significantly improved at Texas City over the past several years," the company said in its statement.
Cynthia Giles, an EPA official, said BP has a three-year deadline to make significant changes at the facility and will be required to continually report to the EPA about what is going on there because the agency is "continuing to closely scrutinize this facility."
While the refinery is old and complex, it is not in worse condition than any other. No new refinery has been built in the United States for at least 30 years.
Yet the Texas City facility has had more problems than most others, with federal agencies recovering more than $130 million in fines from BP for problems at the plant. In addition, BP pleaded guilty to a criminal violation at the plant related to the 2005 explosion, which "tells you how serious problems are at this facility," Giles added.
"The settlement requires BP to change the way they do business at their Texas City facility," she said.
Ignacia Moreno, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources division, said the Clean Air Act was designed to prevent fatal accidents and to "penalize companies with poor practices that cause harmful air pollution."
"This settlement reflects the serious nature of the fires and releases of hazardous air pollutants that occurred at BP's Texas City refinery," Moreno said.