U.S. regulators on Friday ordered the Limetree Bay refinery in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, to cease operations for at least 60 days, putting at risk the multibillion-dollar overhaul of the massive plant.
The Caribbean refinery has suffered several financial and operational setbacks since its private equity owners sought to restart the 1,500-acre (607 hectare) facility inactive since 2012. It voluntarily stopped treatment this week after showering for the second time the neighboring houses of an oily haze. year.
The incident exceeded the plant’s permit for sulfur dioxide emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said. He ordered the facility closed “due to multiple improperly conducted operations that present an imminent risk to public health” and signaled that he could take further action.
A Limetree spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
Its former owners filed for bankruptcy in 2015 amid heavy losses and facing millions of dollars in upgrades to address Clean Air Act violations. In 2016, Boston-based private equity firm Arclight Capital Partners acquired it and recruited other investors, including EIG Global Partners, who invested around $ 3 billion in a plan to start transforming 210,000 barrels per day of crude in gasoline, diesel and fuel oil.
Conditions at the old facility have caused delays, as has the COVID-19 pandemic. After a thorough overhaul, operators began restarts last year that caused a fire. Oil rained on neighboring homes for the second time in four months.
“These repeated incidents at the refinery have been and remain totally unacceptable. Today I ordered the refinery to immediately suspend all operations until we can be assured that this facility can operate in accordance with the laws that protect public health, ”EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
Regan called for an independent audit of operations and for the refinery to develop a plan to correct repeated malfunctions.
“The situation at this St. Croix oil refinery has been an epic regulatory failure,” said Judith Enck, a former EPA administrator who oversaw the facility. It is expected to remain closed until the owners of Limetree “can demonstrate that they can safely operate the facility.” To date, they haven’t, ”she said.
EPA officials descended on Sainte-Croix last month after malfunctions closed nearby schools and public buildings and sick residents. The island’s Department of Planning and Natural Resources determined that there had been releases of toxic sulfur dioxide gases.
Limetree Bay had fought the agency’s claims. Forced to monitor sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions outside the plant, he said he found no high levels of SO2 nearby.
The EPA alleged that Limetree Bay violated the Clean Air Act by failing to operate five SO2 monitors in the community.
Limetree later agreed to resume surveillance.
The EPA said the Clean Air Act gives it the power to shut down operations if the refinery “poses a substantial risk to public health, welfare or the environment.”
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