ExxonMobil Fined for Violating Clean Air Decree at Four Refineries

WASHINGTON, DC, December 17, 2008 (ENS) - ExxonMobil has agreed to pay nearly $6.1 million in civil penalties for violating the terms of a 2005 court-approved Clean Air Act agreement, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

"The Department of Justice will not tolerate violation of our consent decrees," said Assistant Attorney General Ronald Tenpas of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The significant penalty in this case shows that non-compliance with settlement requirements will have serious consequences."

The agreement penalizes ExxonMobil for failing to comply with the 2005 settlement at four refineries in Beaumont and Baytown, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Torrance, California.

The Baytown Refinery, 20 miles east of Houston, is the largest oil refinery in the United States, with a crude capacity of approximately 567,000 barrels per day.

The Baton Rouge Refinery is the second-largest oil refinery in the United States, with a crude capacity of approximately 503,000 barrels per day.

Most of the penalties are for failure to monitor and control the sulfur content in certain fuel gas streams burned in refinery furnaces, as required by the 2005 settlement and EPA regulations.

Between 2005 and 2007, ExxonMobil did not monitor the sulfur content in some fuel gas streams and subsequent testing revealed sulfur content in excess of EPA limits. The burning of sulfur-containing gases emits sulfur dioxide, which can cause serious respiratory problems and is a major component of acid rain.

The 2005 settlement required ExxonMobil to pay a $7.7 million civil penalty, perform an additional $6.7 million in supplemental environmental projects in communities around the company's refineries, and install pollution controls at six of its refineries.

"The 2005 settlement has already resulted in major reductions in air emissions from the company's refineries, but we need full compliance to realize all the benefits of the settlement," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "EPA will continue to enforce against companies that fail to comply with the terms of court-approved settlements."

The 2005 settlement and today's penalty settlement with ExxonMobil were reached as part of a broader EPA initiative to reduce air pollution from ExxonMobil refineries nationwide.

In late 2005, the United States concluded a settlement with ExxonMobil covering all of its North American refineries. The settlement required ExxonMobil to spend more than $570 million to install and implement innovative emission control technologies at its refineries. ExxonMobil paid an $8.7 million civil penalty and committed to spend more than $9.7 million on environmentally beneficial projects to further reduce emissions.

In a separate action today, the two federal agencies are proposing amendments to the 2005 settlement that include minor technical changes and new deadlines for some required activities at ExxonMobil's Beaumont and Baytown, Texas refineries and two others covered by the original settlement in Joliet, Illinois and Billings, Montana.

The proposed amendments, filed today with the U.S. District Court in Chicago, are subject to a 30-day public comment period.

For more information on the Exxon Mobil Petroleum Refinery Settlement amendments and agreements, click here.

Since March 2000, the EPA has entered into 22 settlements with U.S. companies that have nearly 87 percent of the nation's petroleum refining capacity. These settlements cover 96 refineries in 28 states and on full implementation will result in annual emissions reductions on more than 86,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and more than 245,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, the agency says.

Negotiations are continuing with other refiners representing an additional six percent of domestic refining capacity and investigations are underway on others.

For more on the Petroleum Refinery Initiative, click here.

On Tuesday, ExxonMobil Refining & Supply announced it will invest more than $1 billion in three refineries to increase the supply of cleaner burning low sulfur diesel by about six million gallons per day. The company will construct new units and modify existing facilities at its Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Baytown, Texas; and Antwerp, Belgium refineries.

"This underscores the company's ongoing commitment to meeting the growing needs of the marketplace, while, at the same time, providing cleaner burning fuels to consumers. Our increase in diesel production at these three sites will be equal to the diesel produced from about four average-size refineries," said Sherman Glass, president of Refining & Supply.

"In combination with cleaner-burning engines and the latest vehicle emissions control technologies, this low sulfur diesel reduces emissions in both on-road transportation, and off-road industrial sectors," said Glass.

This investment is the latest phase in ExxonMobil's efforts to increase supplies and reduce the sulfur content of both motor gasoline and diesel. In 2000, the company began to convert and modify refineries, terminals and pipelines to provide ultra low sulfur fuel products.

By 2010, the refineries' modifications and expansions are expected to be completed, increasing production of diesel with sulfur levels of 15 parts per million or less.

{ExxonMobil's Baytown refinery is the largest in the country. (Photo courtesy Center for Land Use Interpretation)}

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