BP Texas City refinery tops US carcinogenic emissions list, group says

Nine US refineries account for only 15% of the nation's total capacity but represent one third of the carcinogenic emissions reported by the oil industry, according to a report released Feb. 8 by the Environmental Integrity Project.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 9 -- Nine US refineries account for only 15% of the nation's total capacity but represent one third of the carcinogenic emissions reported by the oil industry, according to a report released Feb. 8 by the Environmental Integrity Project.

In the report entitled "Refined Hazard: Carcinogenic Air Pollution from America's Oil Refineries," BP America Inc.'s Texas City, Tex., facility led EIP's list of refinery carcinogenic emissions in 2004.

BP's plant was followed by facilities owned and operated by ExxonMobil Corp. in Baytown, Tex.; Flint Hills Resources LP in Corpus Christi, Tex.; La Gloria Oil & Gas Co. in Tyler, Tex.; Lyondell Houston Refining LP in Houston; ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, La.; Valero Energy Corp. in Corpus Christi; Sunoco Inc. in Philadelphia; Chalmette Refining LLC in Chalmette, La., and Citgo Petroleum Corp. in Lake Charles, La.

EIP Director Eric Schaeffer, who started the organization in March 2002 after resigning as director of the US Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, said that major inconsistencies in the carcinogen emissions data analyzed in the report raise serious questions about the accuracy and completeness of oil industry reporting to EPA.

"What we are really seeing here are the shortcomings in the 'honor system' for reporting these emissions. Overall level of emissions of carcinogens declined between 1999 and 2004, but there were big jumps at some refineries and inconsistency in the quality and level of reporting at others. EPA should stop taking industry self-reporting at face value, and investigate whether these emissions are being accurately reported as the law requires," he maintained.

Database flaws
The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association promptly challenged that conclusion. "The report simply correlates Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) information to existing petroleum refineries. Unfortunately, the report does not control for the significant shortcomings of the TRI database, including its failure to weigh emissions according to actual risk," NPRA Executive Vice-Pres. Charles T. Drevna said.

"Emissions included in the TRI are permitted releases which have a predetermined level that does not pose an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment," he noted.

EPA Press Secretary Jennifer Wood said the agency is committed to holder polluters responsible, and that its enforcement has resulted in 17 settlements since 2000 which account for 77% of the nation's total refining capacity. These settlements, Wood said, cover 85 refineries in 25 states and will result in emissions reductions of 80,000 tons/year of nitrogen oxides and 235,000 tons/year of sulfur dioxide.

Negotiations are continuing with other refiners representing another 11% of total US refining capacity and other investigations are currently under way, according to Wood.

An ExxonMobil representative said the company was still studying the EIP report and could not comment on its contents. "ExxonMobil refineries are generally world-scale in size, with the Baytown and Baton Rouge facilities being among the largest in the US. Since TRI reporting began in 1988, ExxonMobil has reduced air emissions of the referenced compounds by 36%," said Prem Nar, who handles downstream public affairs for the company.

EIP said its report, which is available online at environmentalintegrity.org, uses data from the EPA TRI to catalogue refinery air emissions of certain pollutants that are known or believed to cause cancer. It said TRI is a database that contains information on toxic chemical releases reported annually by certain covered industries, including refineries.

Designations of chemicals as carcinogenic or possibly carcinogenic in humans are made by expert consensus groups established by the US National Toxicology Program, or by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is an agency of the World Health Organization. The carcinogens emitted by US refineries include benzene, ethylbenzene, butadiene, poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), naphthalene, formaldehyde, and metals such as nickel and lead, according to EIP.

Biggest single source
The report said that BP's Texas City refinery was the largest single refinery source of carcinogen emissions in 2004, due mostly to its reported release of nearly 2 million lb of formaldehyde in that year. BP has claimed that the formaldehyde release resulted from a change in its emission calculations, raising questions as to whether other refineries are reporting accurately, EIP said.

Excluding that refinery, the group said that Texas refineries accounted for 36% of total refinery air emissions of carcinogens in 2004, but only 24% of the nation's refining capacity. In the aggregate, Texas refineries emitted two and a half times the volume of carcinogens per barrel of oil as did California refineries in 2004, it said.

It said that LaGloria's plant in Tyler was the largest individual US refinery source of benzene air emissions, while Sunoco's Philadelphia installation was the largest emitter of PAHs.

Noting that EIP's report cites benzene emissions, NPRA's Drevna said trends for benzene at 95 urban monitoring sites around the country show, on average, a 47% drop in benzene levels in recent years.

"Toxic emissions have declined in part because of actions taken by the refining industry. First, advanced technology and management systems at refineries and petrochemical facilities have lowered emissions. And second, the introduction of new refinery products—namely cleaner gasolines—has reduced the toxics profile of cars and trucks. These reductions will be even more pronounced when the Phase II Mobile Source Air Toxics rules are implemented over the next several years," Drevna said.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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