ExxonMobil, DEQ still argue rulings

June 14 release subject to official penalties

The state Department of Environmental Quality and ExxonMobil Corp. are in the process of dispute resolution discussions involving a June 14 naphtha release at the Baton Rouge chemical plant.

DEQ issued a consolidated compliance order and notice of potential penalty to the facility on July 19 based on the release.

According to that order, about 4:30 a.m. June 14, a plug at a tank was discovered leaking naphtha. Subsequent investigation showed the leak began at 1:54 a.m. The company notified authorities that a “reportable amount” of material, including benzene, had been released.

The next day, the company notified DEQ that it appeared 1,364 pounds of material had been released, and during a June 18 meeting, company officials told DEQ it appeared the release was a “Level 2,” according to the order.

The order states that ExxonMobil “failed to make additional notification” to DEQ on the day of the release when the company representatives became “aware that the amount of material released and the quantity of emissions associated with the release was substantially different than what was previously reported to the Department.”

On June 20, ExxonMobil submitted a written report that described the release, including the amount of pollution released. Within that report, ExxonMobil stated that 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 were released.

As a result of the incident, DEQ issued the consolidated compliance order and notice of potential penalty sent to ExxonMobil on July 19.

Dwana King, deputy general counsel with DEQ, explained that when DEQ issues an order, the respondent has the ability to ask for a hearing, which ExxonMobil did in this case. In turn, DEQ can either grant or deny the request or decide to go into dispute resolution.

Going into dispute resolution gives DEQ and the respondent up to one year to resolve the issues, she said. If one year goes by and a resolution hasn’t been agreed to, then DEQ makes a decision at that time whether to grant or deny a hearing before an administrative judge, King said.

Following the incident, DEQ staff did an inspection of the facility and based on that DEQ issued a second consolidated compliance order and notice of potential penalty. ExxonMobil contested the findings in the order and asked for a hearing. That order, which deals with how ExxonMobil disposed of the spill without a permit or other authorization, is on the same track for dispute resolution. ExxonMobil disagrees with DEQ that processing or recycling the material involved in the spill needed any kind of special permission.

An ExxonMobil spokeswoman said the company hopes to resolve the compliance order early next year. “We don’t anticipate entering into an official dispute resolution situation,” Stephanie Cargile, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge public and government affairs manager, wrote in an emailed response to questions.

On Thursday, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, issued a news release about a Clean Air Act and risk management inspection of ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery facility — including the chemical plant — that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency performed about a month after the naptha release

According to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade news release, the EPA, in its July 16-20 inspection, “confirmed several trends raised by residents. Among the most important is the refinery’s failure to report its accidents, a charge long made by neighbors who know how bad the refinery’s accident problem really is.”

The EPA inspection was a mixed bag of praise and areas of concern.

For example, the Baton Rouge Refinery Facility, “provides state-of-the-art fire protection, prevention, inspection, hazard mitigation, training and technical support services” and “is completing the incident investigations on time and dating them correctly, establishing root causes, and initiating their responses as soon as possible,” according to the inspection report.

On the other hand, there were a number of areas of concern expressed, including “shutdown and emergency procedures provided during the inspection are inconsistent in the level of detail provided for each step. Several of the steps do not adequately provide the operator with enough detail to complete the step,” and that the facility “has not documented the underground piping inspections and had no historical records to provide any documentations of prior years’ inspections.”

The inspection is under enforcement review at this time, said David Bary, EPA Region 6 spokesman.