by amy wold
Advocate staff writer
July 24, 2012
State officials want to know exactly when ExxonMobil Chemical Plant staff knew that the amount of released naphtha, which includes benzene, was much higher than originally reported in the wake of a June 14 spill at the Baton Rouge facility.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality issued a compliance order and notice of potential penalty against ExxonMobil Chemical on July 19 that in part states the facility did not notify the state and other agencies when estimates of a leak amount June 14 substantially changed.
According to the order, on June 14, a leaking plug at a tank was discovered, and naphtha, which includes a number of compounds including benzene, was released. The incident was reported to DEQ and other required agencies. The next day, it was estimated that 1,364 pounds of material was released, according to the order.
On June 18, facility representatives told DEQ officials that ExxonMobil Chemical staff had determined June 14 the release was a “Level 2 incident classification” which meant a significant response by the facility was needed.
However, according to the order, the facility did not tell DEQ on June 14 that the facility’s estimated of the amount of material was “substantially different that what was previously reported to the Department.”
Celena Cage, administrator of DEQ’s enforcement division, said based on information provided to the department, ExxonMobil was aware Thursday evening or Friday morning that the amount of naphtha released was more than originally reported. As part of the order, DEQ is asking for a timeline that shows specifically what facility staff knew and when they knew it, she said.
Company officials said Monday they notified the appropriate agencies of the leak in a timely manner.
“ExxonMobil promptly contacted the Louisiana State Police, LDEQ, NRC and other appropriate agencies to report a naphtha material leak of greater than 10 pounds for benzene and 1,000 pounds for toluene on June 14,” wrote Stephanie Cargile, public and government affairs manager with ExxonMobil Baton Rouge. “These amounts reflect the reportable quantity of these materials, which we are required to report within a one-hour time frame.”
The incident was investigated and steps are being taken to correct any problems, Cargile said. A plug vibrated out of place which caused naphtha to be released from the valve that was not fully closed, she said.
“Our goal is to prevent this type of incident from happening in the future, and we regret that this incident occurred,” she wrote.
On June 20, DEQ got a written notification that the release involved 28,688 pounds of benzene, 10,882 pounds of toluene, 1,100 pounds of cyclohexane, 1,564 pounds of hexane and 12,605 pounds of additional volatile organic compounds, according to the order. Although DEQ continues to investigate the incident, a number of violations related to the June 14 spill were noted by DEQ staff during an inspection and file review, according to the order.
Those violations include failing to tell agencies when ExxonMobil Chemical discovered that the release was larger than initially reported, exceeding permit allowed releases of material, failing to maintain an emission control facility and failing to maintain a valve seal which led to the leak.
The compliance order and notice of potential penalty direct ExxonMobil Chemical to put together a timeline that shows when facility staff became aware of a change in the nature and rate of the release, revise or develop the procedures by which agencies are notified of incidents and requests information relating to the tank where the leak occurred.
All these actions are to be done and submitted to DEQ within 30 days of the July 19 order.
In addition, DEQ ordered the facility to submit the plan for a comprehensive review of the facilities procedures for detection, containment and management of spills and leaks.
“This plan shall include both short-term and long-term corrective actions to allow for more timely detection, containment and management of spills and leaks,” according to the order.
The order also outlines that civil penalties of not more than $32,500 for each day of violation could be assessed.
Cage said ExxonMobil Chemical has 30 days from when the company received the order on July 19 to decide whether to ask for a hearing to dispute any of the DEQfacts of the order.