Three U.S. subsidiaries of Dutch chemical giant LyondellBasell Industries N.V. (Lyondell) have agreed to make upgrades and perform compliance measures estimated to cost $50 million to resolve allegations they violated the Clean Air Act and state air pollution control laws at six petrochemical manufacturing facilities located in Channelview, Corpus Christi, and LaPorte, Texas, and Clinton, Iowa. Lyondell will also pay a $3.4 million civil penalty. The settlement, announced today by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from flares.
According to the complaint, the companies failed to properly operate and monitor their industrial flares, which resulted in excess emissions of harmful air pollution at five facilities in Texas and one in Iowa. Lyondell’s subsidiaries regularly “oversteamed” the flares at their facilities and failed to comply with other key operating constraints to ensure the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants contained in the gases routed to the flares are effectively combusted.
The EPA identified potential environmental justice concerns at the two Channelview facilities for exposure to particulate matter (2.5 micron), ozone, toxic cancer risk, and respiratory hazard. The significant emissions reductions of VOCs, HAPs, and greenhouse gases that today’s settlement secures at the Channelview facilities serve to reduce exposure in the community to some of the same air pollutants that they are disproportionately exposed to.
“The Justice Department and EPA will continue to enforce the law against petrochemical plants that violate the Clean Air Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “In particular, we are committed to reducing harmful air pollution from unnecessary and improper flaring, especially near overburdened communities with environmental justice concerns.”
“This settlement will require LyondellBasel to install pollution control and emissions monitoring equipment at six facilities in Texas and Iowa, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and other harmful gases by thousands of tons per year,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Those controls, plus a requirement for fence line monitoring of benzene emissions, will result in significant benefits for the local communities in Texas and Iowa.”
The settlement requires the companies to install and operate air pollution control and monitoring technology to reduce flaring and the resulting harmful air pollution from 21 flares at the six facilities. Once fully implemented, the pollution controls are estimated to reduce emissions of climate-change-causing greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane, and ethane, by almost 92,000 tons per year. The settlement is also expected to reduce emissions of ozone-forming VOCs by almost 2,700 tons per year and of toxic air pollutants, including benzene, by nearly 400 tons per year.
The pollutants addressed by the settlement can cause significant harm to public health. VOCs are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Chronic exposure to benzene, which EPA classifies as a carcinogen, can cause numerous health impacts, including leukemia and adverse reproductive effects in women. Flares are also often large sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Flares are devices used to combust waste gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere during certain industrial operations. Well-operated flares should have high “combustion efficiency,” meaning they combust nearly all harmful waste gas constituents, like VOCs and hazardous air pollutants, and turn them into water and carbon dioxide. The agreement is designed to improve Lyondell’s flaring practices. First, it requires Lyondell to minimize the amount of waste gas that is sent to the flares, which reduces the amount of flaring. Second, Lyondell must improve the combustion efficiency of its flares when flaring is necessary.
Lyondell will take several steps to minimize the waste gas sent to its flares at each facility. At certain facilities, Lyondell will operate flare gas recovery systems that recover and “recycle” the gases instead of sending them to be combusted in a flare. The flare gas recovery systems will allow Lyondell to reuse these gases as a fuel at its facilities or a product for sale. Lyondell will also create waste minimization plans for each facility to further reduce flaring. For flaring that must occur, the agreement requires that Lyondell install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that the gases sent to its flares are efficiently combusted.
Lyondell will also perform air quality monitoring that is designed to detect the presence of benzene at the fence lines of the six covered plants. Monitoring results must be publicly posted, providing the neighboring communities with more information about their air quality. The monitoring requirements also include triggers for root cause analysis and corrective actions if fence line emissions exceed certain thresholds. Flare compliance is an ongoing priority for EPA under its National Air Toxics Initiative.
The consent decree, lodged in the Southern District Court of Texas, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The consent decree will be available for viewing at https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
For more information about this settlement please visit: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/equistar-chemicals-lp-lyondellbasell-acetyls-llc-and-lyondell-chemical-company-clean.