Three subsidiaries of a multinational chemical company reached a $3.4 million civil penalty settlement agreement with the EPA and Department of Justice (DOJ) in October 2021, the EPA announced. The agreement includes upgrades and “compliance measures estimated to cost $50 million to resolve allegations they violated the Clean Air Act (CAA) and state air pollution control laws at six petrochemical manufacturing facilities located in Channelview, Corpus Christi, and LaPorte, Texas, and Clinton, Iowa.… The settlement … will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from flares.”
The chemical company has offices in London and a U.S. headquarters in Houston. “Worldwide, the company is the largest licensor of polyethylene and polypropylene technologies and the third largest independent chemical manufacturer,” reports BIC Magazine. “It also produces ethylene, propylene, polyolefins, and oxyfuels.”
The complaint alleges chemical companies “failed to properly operate and monitor their industrial flares,” regularly “oversteamed” flares, and “failed to comply with other key operating constraints to ensure the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants contained in the gases routed to the flares [were] effectively combusted.”
The EPA reported “environmental justice concerns at the two Channelview facilities for exposure to particulate matter (2.5 micron), ozone, toxic cancer risk, and respiratory hazard.”
“The settlement requires the companies to install and operate air pollution control and monitoring technology to reduce flaring and the resulting harmful air pollution from 21 flares at the six facilities,” the EPA news release states. “Once fully implemented, the pollution controls are estimated to reduce emissions of climate-change-causing greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane, and ethane, by almost 92,000 tons per year. The settlement is also expected to reduce emissions of ozone-forming VOCs by almost 2,700 tons per year and of toxic air pollutants, including benzene, by nearly 400 tons per year.”
Flares, used to combust waste gases, are required to have “high combustion efficiency,” resulting in efficient operations that “combust nearly all harmful waste gas constituents, like VOCs and hazardous air pollutants, and turn them into water and carbon dioxide,” according to the EPA. Inefficient flaring practices and outdated flare equipment often result in large amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The chemical company “will take several steps to minimize the waste gas sent to its flares at each facility,” the EPA states, including:
- Operating flare gas recovery systems at certain facilities that recover and “recycle” the gases instead of sending them to be combusted in a flare. This will allow the gases to be reused as a fuel at its facilities or a product for sale.
- Creating waste minimization plans for each facility to further reduce flaring.
- Installing and operating instruments and monitoring systems to ensure the gases that must be sent to its flares are efficiently combusted.
The chemical company “will also perform air quality monitoring that is designed to detect the presence of benzene at the fence lines of the six covered plants. Monitoring results must be publicly posted, providing the neighboring communities with more information about their air quality. The monitoring requirements also include triggers for root cause analysis and corrective actions if fence line emissions exceed certain thresholds. Flare compliance is an ongoing priority for EPA under its National Air Toxics Initiative.”
The consent decree is in the Southern District Court of Texas for a 30-day public comment period and is subject to final court approval.