BP to pay $15m for Texas City clean air act violation

The US Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have confirmed that BP Products North America has agreed to pay $15m (£9m) for violating the US clean air act at its Texas City petroleum refinery.

The penalty is the largest ever assessed for civil violations of the US clean air act’s chemical accident prevention regulations and the largest civil penalty recovered for clean air act violations at an individual facility.

The settlement, which is subject to court approval, addresses violations stemming from two fires that occurred at the refinery in March 2004 and July 2005, and a leak that occurred in August 2005.

During the three incidents, thousands of pounds of flammable and toxic air pollutants were released. The settlement also resolves allegations that BP failed to identify all regulated hazardous air pollutants used at the refinery in plans submitted to the EPA.

The EPA identified the clean air act violations during a series of inspections of the Texas City refinery after a catastrophic explosion and fire in March 2005 that killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others.

The EPA also identified violations of other clean air act requirements at the refinery relating to the control of benzene, ozone-depleting substances and asbestos. These violations were resolved in a February 2009 settlement that required BP to spend more than $161m on pollution controls, enhanced maintenance and monitoring, and improved internal management practices at the refinery, as well as pay a $12m civil penalty and spend $6m on a supplemental project to reduce air pollution in Texas City and the surrounding area.

In a separate safety-related move, BP announced this week that it is to create a new safety division with sweeping powers to oversee and audit the company’s operations around the world. The safety and operational risk division will have the authority to intervene in all aspects of BP’s technical activities.

It will have its own expert staff embedded in BP’s operating units, including exploration projects and refineries, and will be responsible for ensuring that all operations are carried out to common standards and for auditing compliance with those standards.

The company said the decision to establish the new function followed the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico and BP’s investigation into the disaster.