Citgo found guilty of two US environmental charges

A federal jury in Corpus Christi, Tex., found Citgo Petroleum guilty of two felony criminal violations of the Clean Air Act but acquitted the refiner-marketer on two other counts.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, July 9 -- A federal jury in Corpus Christi, Tex., found Citgo Petroleum Corp. guilty of two felony criminal violations of the Clean Air Act but acquitted the Houston refiner-marketer on two other counts, the US Department of Justice and Citgo said in separate announcements June 27.

Citgo, a subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), was found guilty of operating two large, open-air tanks without proper emissions controls at Citgo Refining & Chemicals Co.'s Corpus Christi East refinery. DOJ said Citgo used the tanks to separate oil from water without either a fixed roof, vented to a control device, or a floating roof. Separators upstream from the tanks never worked to remove oil from the waste water before oil entered the tanks, it said.

Citgo learned within months after the two tanks went into operation that the upstream oil-water separators did not work, and it used vacuum trucks to remove oil from the surface of water in the tanks for nearly 10 years instead of installing the proper control equipment to prevent emissions of benzene and other volatile organic compounds, DOJ said.

Citgo noted that it was acquitted of two other counts relating to the reporting of benzene in waste water streams during 2001-02 and said it plans to appeal the guilty verdicts.

US Environmental Protection Agency regulations do not require roofs on waste water equalization tanks and explicitly excluded such tanks from the requirement, the company said. It voluntarily began to construct such roofs in 2004 though it was not required to do so, it added.

"The charges absolutely do not involve any releases or spills to the environment," the company said. "Citgo is proud of its environmental record and is confident that the verdict on Counts 4 and 5 will be reversed on appeal. In fact, the waste water system of which the equalization tanks are a part has never had a permit violation on oil or grease since the tanks were built in 1994," the company said.

DOJ said that a federal grand jury on Aug. 9, 2006, indicted Citgo and its environmental manager Philip Vrazel on the four CAA counts, one felony count of false statements, and five misdemeanor counts of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which were later severed. It said the court has not determined whether the government will be able to go forward on the false statements charge.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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