ConocoPhillips Settles Clean Air Violations for $540 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - ConocoPhillips will spend $525 million to reduce air pollution from nine petroleum refineries and pay a $4.5 million civil fine to settle alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.

Federal officials said the settlement would reduce annual emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOx) by more than 37,000 tons and sulfur dioxide (SO2), a major source of particulate matter and acid rain, by more than 10,000 tons.

Both pollutants have been linked to severe respiratory ailments, including asthma.

Officials with the U.S. Justice Department filed the proposed settlement Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Texas.

The proposal is subject to a 30 day public comment period and must be approved by a federal judge.

It covers refineries in California, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.


ConocoPhilipps' petroleum refinery in Lake Charles, Louisana (Photo courtesy ConocoPhillips)
ConocoPhillips is the nation’s largest oil refiner - on Wednesday the company reported a profit of $2.43 billion for the fourth quarter of 2004.

The nine facilities in the settlement represent 10 percent of the total refining capacity in the United States.

California and Texas are not part of the settlement – the five states that are part of the agreement will receive a share of the civil penalty and of the $10 million ConocoPhillips will spend on supplemental environmental projects.

The Justice Department sued the company for exceeding pollution emission limits and for multiple violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program at its refineries.

New Source Review calls on industrial facilities to upgrade emissions controls when a major modification is made that adds a new source of power.

Under the negotiated settlement, ConocoPhillips will spend the $525 million over eight years to upgrade its leak detection and repair practices, implement programs to minimize flaring of hazardous gases, reduce emissions from its sulfur recovery plants and adopt strategies to ensure the proper handling of hazardous benzene wastes at each refinery.


The Wood River, Illinois, refinery is the company’s largest with a crude oil throughput capacity of 286,400 barrels per day. (Photo courtesy ConocoPhillips)
The settlement allows ConocoPhillips to avoid admitting it violated the law.

The settlement comes as the Bush administration faces broad criticism from environmentalists, public health advocates and state pollution control officers over its enforcement of the nation’s clean air regulations, in particular New Source Review.

But administration officials say they are committed to enforcing the law and note that the ConocoPhillips settlement is the thirteenth – and second largest - reached by the EPA under an initiative to clean up the nation’s refineries since December 2000.

"This agreement represents another major milestone in the effort to reduce pollution from our nation's petroleum refineries," said Thomas Skinner, EPA acting assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Skinner said 57 plants in 26 states – representing more than 50 percent of domestic refining capacity – are now covered by settlements to date under EPA's Petroleum Refinery Initiative.

The 13 settlements include agreements to spend some $2.6 billion on control technologies and $45 million in civil penalties.

“These settlements, when fully implemented, will reduce emissions of air pollutants by approximately 240,000 tons per year,” Skinner said.