March 13, 2003
The Southland’s air
quality agency filed a civil lawsuit this week seeking $319 million from BP/ARCO
for thousands of air pollution violations over an eight-year period at the
company’s Carson refinery.
“This is by far the
largest penalty every sought by AQMD,” said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer
of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“We are seeking more
than $300 million from BP/ARCO because the company committed thousands of
violations involving excess air pollution while routinely submitting records to
AQMD that showed no violations.”
AQMD’s attorneys filed
the civil complaint for $319,265,000 against BP West Coast Products LLC this
week in Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Central Division. The 109-page
complaint specifies three main categories of air pollution violations at the
company’s Carson oil refinery between 1994 and 2002:
- Submittal of false inspection reports and failure to maintain an
inspection and maintenance program for floating roof tanks under AQMD’s Rule
463, resulting in excess emissions from the tanks;
- Failure to sample pollutant gases in refinery flares, as required
by AQMD’s Rule 1118; and
- Two incidents that resulted in strong odors, a public nuisance and
evacuation of nearby schools.
Voluntary Tank Inspection Program
In 1990, AQMD conducted
a pilot program for refineries to self-inspect their petroleum storage tanks to
address the need for efficient use of field inspectors in the face of
increasingly complex rules and requirements. ARCO and 11 other companies
participated in the highly successful program, which resulted in compliance
rates rising from 86 percent to 97 percent.
In 1994, AQMD amended
its Rule 463 to require self-inspections by all companies with above-ground
storage tanks for volatile liquids such as gasoline, crude oil and jet fuel.
The inspections and any required maintenance were meant to prevent the leakage
of volatile organic compound (VOC) vapors. VOCs combine with oxides of nitrogen
to form ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant responsible for Southern
California’s dubious reputation as smog capital of the nation.
Starting in the
mid-1990s, oil companies eliminated their in-house inspectors and hired outside
contractors to perform the tank inspections. AQMD officials became suspicious
when reviewing BP/ARCO inspection reports from 1999 to 2002 that showed no tank
problems and virtually no repairs.
In June 2002, AQMD
inspectors attempted to inspect storage tanks at BP/ARCO’s refinery, but company
officials refused to allow them entry on several occasions. AQMD then obtained
an inspection warrant from Superior Court and executed the inspection on June 24
with the assistance of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs.
Inspectors found that
more than 80 percent of the tanks inspected violated AQMD’s Rule 463, due to
numerous leaks, gaps, torn seals and other defects that caused excess
violations. Inspectors issued a total of 12 Notices of Violation documenting
thousands of counts of air pollution violations.
Floating roofs – which
literally float on the surface of oil -- are used on some petroleum storage
tanks to eliminate an empty space in the tank where polluting vapors can form
and escape. External floating roof tanks at BP are used primarily to store
crude oil, gasoline, gasoline-blend components, MTBE and slop oil/water.
Most of the lawsuit’s 54
causes of action allege violations at 26 of the refinery’s storage tanks. The
lawsuit alleges the violations occurred every day from Sept. 14, 1994 – the day
the self-inspection requirement took effect -- until June 20, 2002, when AQMD
notified the refinery that AQMD intended to inspect the refinery’s tanks. Under
California’s Health and Safety Code, each air pollution violation is subject to
various maximum daily penalties depending on its duration, whether excess
emissions occurred and the state of mind of the violator.
In addition, the lawsuit
- From Jan. 1, 2000 through October 2001, BP/ARCO failed to sample
and reported to AQMD the constituents of its flare gases, as required by AQMD’s
Rule 1118; and
- On Dec. 6, 2001, and Jan. 25, 2002, strong odors from the refinery
caused a public nuisance and severely affected students at nearby schools
including Broad Avenue Elementary School and Wilmington Middle School, both in
“We hope this lawsuit
and any penalty recovered will serve as a strong deterrent to other companies
violating air pollution regulations and thereby endangering the public’s
health,” Wallerstein said.
He further noted that
any penalties recovered will go into air pollution control projects or health
studies related to air pollution.
AQMD is the air
pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles,
San Bernardino and Riverside counties.