Oil Company pleads guilty to Clean Air Act

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Pelican Refining Company LLC, pleaded guilty on October 12th to felony violations of the Clean Air Act and to obstruction of justice charges in federal court in Lafayette, La.

Officials of Pelican, whose headquartered in Houston and operating a refinery in Lake Charles, admitted that the company had violated many aspects of its permit to operate.

These violations were found during an inspection by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and the EPA in March of 2006, where they found unsafe operating conditions.

Pelican also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for submitting false deviation reports to LDEQ, the agency that administers the federal Clean Air Act in Louisiana.

The following is what pelican admitted to:

  • Pelican had no company budget, no environmental department and no environmental manager;
  • In order to comply with a permit issued under the Clean Air Act, the refinery was required to use certain key pollution prevention equipment, but that equipment was either not functioning, poorly maintained, improperly installed, improperly placed into service and/or improperly calibrated;
  • It was a routine practice for over a year to use an emergency flare gun to re-light the flare tower at the refinery which was designed to burn off toxic gasses and provide for the safe combustion of potentially explosive chemicals; because the pilot light was not functioning properly, employees would take turns trying to shoot the flare gun to relight the explosive gasses;
  • Sour crude oil was stored in a tank that was not properly placed into service and remained in the tank after the roof sank;
  • A caustic scrubber designed to remove hydrogen sulfide from emissions was bypassed; and
  • A continuous emission monitoring system (CEMS) designed to measure the hydrogen sulfide levels in refinery emissions was not working properly.

If the court sentences accordingly to the terms in today's plea agreement, then Pelican will have to pay $12 million in criminal penalties, including $2 million in community service payments.

Pelican would also be banned from future refinery operations unless or until it executes an environmental compliance plan.

This sentencing would mark the largest criminal fine ever in Louisiana in violations with the Clean Air Act.

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