Owners of a crude oil refinery at El Dorado agreed to a $4 million penalty for violating clean-air standards and to make equipment upgrades limiting release of pollution from a plant ranking among the largest in the Midwest, federal and state officials said Thursday.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced a settlement agreement in the case with HollyFrontier El Dorado Refining, which is part of a larger Dallas-based company.
The company allegedly exceeded emission limits and failed to comply with chemical accident prevention mandates at the El Dorado refinery.
"Clean air is one of the most important resources we have in the United States," said Jim Gulliford, administrator of the EPA region that includes Kansas. "This agreement results in positive steps toward both compliance with the Clean Air Act and cleaner air for those living in the El Dorado community and downwind from the facility."
Under terms of a deal subject to public comment, HollyFrontier would pay a $4 million civil penalty. The company would make improvements at the refinery to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Both pollutants can cause serious respiratory problems.
EPA and KDHE reported HollyFrontier repeatedly violated regulations prohibiting visible smoke emissions from the El Dorado refinery’s main flare that result in releases of potentially harmful particulates.
In addition, government officials pointed to instances in which the refinery exceeded limits for hydrogen sulfide in fuel gas, fell short in monitoring for hydrogen sulfide and failed to minimize emissions using air pollution control practices. Each shortcoming resulted in harmful releases of sulfur dioxide, officials said.
EPA alleged many of the Clean Air Act violations were repeat offenses cited in a 2009 settlement involving the El Dorado refinery.
In addition, the EPA said the company failed to design and maintain a safe facility and to comply with chemical accident prevention regulations, including inspection, testing and repair of equipment.
These shortcomings, EPA said, were a factor in the September 2017 "catastrophic" release of naptha, a flammable hydrocarbon mixture, which resulted in a fire and the death of one employee. Timothy Underwood, 52, suffered burns and died in the accident.
"In addition to failing to comply with Clean Air Act emissions limits, the defendant failed to maintain a safe facility resulting in a catastrophic fire," said Susan Bodine, an EPA assistant administrator for the office of enforcement and compliance assurance.
The refinery consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.