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23rd August 2010
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BP’s woes continue at Texas City refinery

Neil Eisberg, 23 August 2010

Just when it thought that it could see the end of its Deepwater Horizon oil spill woes, Texas City has come back to haunt energy major BP. The company has been hit with a $10bn lawsuit over an alleged leak of toxic chemicals during April and May 2010 at the troubled refinery (C&I 2009, 22, 7). The group action lawsuit involves some 2000 local residents and seeks compensation for ‘health effects including all symptoms associated with acute benzene exposure’.

BP had reported problems at the refinery to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). According to The Galveston County Daily News, a spokesman for the refinery said that in its follow up report to the TCEQ, BP estimated 36,000lb of nitrogen oxides and 17,000lb of benzene were released over the 40-day period.

Texas state law is said to require that emissions of 10lb or more of benzene and 200lb or more of nitrogen oxide emissions during a 24-hour period must be reported through the TCEQ air emissions database. The bulk of the emissions during the period included an estimated 189,000lb of carbon monoxide and 61,000lb of propane, according to the company’s report to the TCEQ.

A BP statement said: ‘During the ultracracker compressor outage of April–May, the community air monitoring network did not show elevated readings. Similarly, the site’s recently enhanced fence line monitoring did not show a ground level impact throughout the event. During the outage, the unit was operated at minimal capacity of approximately 55%, reducing production and emissions. Based on our understanding of the facts and circumstances, BP does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in connection with this event.’

The TCEQ has handed its findings over to the Texas attorney general, according to the Associated Press, which reports that the attorney general is already looking into more than 60 other air quality violations at the refinery dating back to March 2005. BP could be fined up to $25,000/day for each violation. John Sadlier, deputy director of TCEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement said: ‘BP seems to have significant issues as it relates to unauthorised emissions events.’

BP has also now agreed to pay $50.6m for failing to fix safety problems at its Texas City refinery. It was originally fined $87.4m for these violations (C&I 2009, 22, 7), but has now agreed with regulatory bodies to pay the reduced fine.

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