On June 4, 2010, two weeks before the blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP’s oil refinery in Texas City, Texas released toxins into the air when the company began repairs on an important piece of equipment. The leak, which contained the known carcinogen benzene, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, continued for 40 days and spewed over half-a-million pounds of toxins into the surrounding environment.
ProPublica investigated the accident and its environmental impact, and ProPublica Managing Editor Stephen Engelberg discussed the organization’s findings in an interview with Need to Know. Here’s the statement BP issued in response to Pro Publica’s coverage of the event:
On June 4, 2010, BP Texas City provided a follow-up report to TCEQ showing emissions calculations resulting from flaring associated with a 40-day outage of a compressor on the site’s Ultracracker unit.
That follow-up report shows emissions of various materials totaling approximately 538,000 pounds during the 40-day period. The foregoing amount includes emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and benzene above their respective reportable quantities. [Clarifying note: the NOx and benzene did not equal 538,000 pounds. They were the two components (at 36,000 pounds and 17,000 pounds respectively) that exceeded reportable quantities.]
New analytical equipment has enabled us to better understand the unit’s emissions when the compressor is down, and a review is underway of procedures related to operating with a compressor outage on that unit.
During the 40-day time period, the site’s fence line monitoring did not indicate any excess readings. Also of note, the site performed modeling of the emissions using TCEQ-approved modeling methods, and that modeling did not indicate an exceedance of regulatory exposure limits to workers or the community at any time during the flaring.
In addition to making the required filings with the TCEQ, we have briefed City leaders on the issue.
As ProPublica has also detailed, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a civil suit against BP in 2009 for air pollution violations committed by its Texas City refinery. In a statement, Abbott accused the company of “polluting our environment, concealing information from authorities and harming Texans.” The state is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a court order forcing BP to comply with state environmental laws. Here is BP’s official response to the suit:
Although we won’t comment on the status or details of this litigation, we have implemented substantial enhancements in safety and environmental performance and reporting of emissions events at the Texas City refinery.
We believe we are in compliance with the 2006 TCEQ Agreed Order and are eager to productively resolve the agency’s concerns.
In addition, independently verified air monitoring data from our Texas City Refinery clearly indicates a substantial and sustained improvement in air quality since 2004.
BP Texas City is also moving forward with a number of measures that will further improve environmental performance and reporting. These measures include industry leading technologies and programs.
All of these steps are consistent with our strong commitment to environmental stewardship, compliance, and specifically, our efforts to even further reduce the frequency and size of emissions events at the Texas City Refinery.