Oklahoma refineries not among those cited in EPA watchdog report


The EPA’s internal watchdog, the office of inspector general, issued a new report saying the agency should increase actions to address emissions of cancer-causing benzene from oil refineries nationwide.

Oklahoma refineries were among those reviewed in the report but none were found to be releasing excess benzene emissions. The office of the EPA’s inspector general issued a new report saying that out of 25 refineries that had excess benzene emissions at least one time between January 2018 and September 2021, 23 had at least one other instance of excess emissions, and 13 had at least 10 more instances.

The refineries are located in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Indiana, New Mexico, Arkansas, Virgin Island, Kentucky, Illinois, and Alabama.

Furthermore, the report said that of these 25 refineries, at least 18 later emitted the chemical at levels that present health risks.

The EPA has classified benzene — which can come from burning coal and oil— as a known human carcinogen. Refineries turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

The report particularly pointed to a ​​Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery that was found to have emitted benzene at unsafe levels during 23 separate two-week sampling periods. It also said that a Total refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, emitted benzene at unsafe levels during 11 two-week sampling periods.

Eric Schaeffer, former director of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement, told The Hill that people described benzene emissions at this level as “posing a significant risk to people downwind.”

The watchdog report called on the EPA to “enhance oversight” of the facilities in order to prevent community exposure to the dangerous chemical.

“We identified barriers that could prevent the EPA and delegated authorities from determining whether refineries exceed the action level,” stated the report.

It said that oversight that was being provided by the agency and other authorities “has not always been sufficient.”

“Although the EPA and delegated authorities have the authority to take enforcement action at refineries that do not identify and implement appropriate corrective action … enforcement-related actions by the EPA and delegated authorities were limited,” the report said.

In an official response, The EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said that it agreed “in principle” with recommendations from the inspector general’s office.

It took issue, however, with the report’s focus on two-week sampling periods, calling it “misleading” and saying that excess emissions of benzene may not necessarily be violations.

The EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation concurred with the recommendation that was addressed to it.

Schaeffer, who is now the executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said that inadequate staffing may be one reason for a lack of enforcement. He also said that his group is calling for stricter requirements for correcting excess benzene levels.

“Right now that requirement to correct doesn’t come with a ‘by when.’ It’s too vague,” he said.

(The Hill)