LyondellBasel has agreed to spend $50 million to reduce air pollution at six petrochemical plants, including four in the Houston area.
This is part of a settlement with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to resolve allegations that the company failed to operate and maintain flaring. The company also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $3.4 million.
Two of the plants are in Channelview (North and South Facilities) and two are in La Porte (Acetyls and Equistar facilities). The others are in Corpus Christi and Clinton, Iowa.
Flare Stack controls absent
Companies are allowed to vent gases in a flare stack as a control device in a petrochemical plant. Combustion of the gases must occur in the flare stack. For that reason, the flares must have monitoring equipment. Many flares use steam to assist in combustion by promoting turbulence in a flare’s flame. The steam-to-vent gas ratio must be calculated. Too much steam snuffs out the flame, and too little causing excessive smoke. In either case, air pollutants escape.
The EPA alleged that, since 2009, the company
- made modifications to the stacks without getting the necessary permits
- failed to install or properly operate flow monitors
- failed to have sufficient controls to maintain the steam-to-vent gas ratios within specifications
- operated the flares with excessively high steam content
The EPA singled out the Channelview facilities as subjecting the surrounding area to especially high particulate matter, ozone, toxic cancer risk and respiratory hazard.
One year to install controls
The company has agreed to install the monitoring and control systems within one year. This includes a fenceline monitoring system at each of the plants.
It has also agreed to minimize the amount of waste gas that it sends to the flares. It must submit its initial waste gas minimization plan to the EPA within one year. This includes a root cause analysis of what’s causing the waste gas. An updated plan, taking into account reductions identified as part of the root cause analysis is due within two years.
2007 consent decree
Back in 2007, the company settled other pollution allegations with the DOJ. That settlement covered seven plants in total, including four on the list today. The company paid a penalty of $2.5 million and spent $125 million to reduce air, water and hazardous waste violations.
The settlement comes two weeks after the company pledged net zero emissions by 2050.
In 2020, the company made an operating profit of $2 billion (before impairments). Between 2016-2019, the company had an operating profit of between $4 billion and $5.5 billion each year.