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Records: BP tried to avoid divulging emissions

TEXAS CITY — As BP released thousands of pounds of toxins into the air during the spring of 2010, members of the refinery’s leadership team were searching for ways to avoid reporting the emissions to state regulators, internal documents obtained by The Daily News show.

Records also show company officials were aware 10 days into the 40-day event that emissions during the extended flaring violated the company’s air-quality permits.

Still, despite warnings from the refinery’s top environmental officer, the refinery’s leadership team, including manager Keith Casey, decided to keep the refinery running.

Between April 6, 2010, and May 16, 2010, BP reported it sent more than 530,000 pounds of chemicals into the air during flaring after a compressor on the ultracracker malfunctioned. The public was unaware of the emissions event until The Daily News reported it 20 days after repairs were made and flaring stopped.

BP, which last week announced it would sell its Texas City refinery to Marathon Petroleum, is the target of a lawsuit with more than 45,000 people claiming the toxin released during a 40-day period in 2010 caused health problems.

The trial is scheduled to start next year. Even with the sale of the refinery, BP will remain the defendant in the case.

The sale agreement exempts Marathon Petroleum from any liability for events at the refinery that happen before Marathon takes control.

BP has settled a state investigation into the incident but faces a federal investigation.

Email exchanges among environmental workers at BP indicate the company was searching for ways to avoid disclosing the emissions.

“(Mark Berlinger, BP Texas City’s manager of the Health, Safety, Security and Environment Department) said he wanted to figure out a way that we can permit the 100J situation,” Paula LaRocca, an environmental team leader for the BP refinery wrote in an email to Carrie Phillips, a member of the refinery’s environmental team.

The flaring happened after a compressor, the 100J, broke down on the refinery’s ultracracker unit. Under air permit rules in Texas at the time, refineries used a flex air permit process that allowed industrial sites greater latitude in controlling air emissions. The process issued permits based on a facility’s overall emissions and not on the unit-by-unit measure federal regulators prefer.

“(Berlinger) says that since we have 600 hours in our permit that allows for maintenance, etc. that we should be able to use that for these type of scenarios,” LaRocca wrote in the May 11, 2010, email. “Obviously I explained to him why we can’t.”

LaRocca went on to explain other parts of her conversation with Berlinger that at times she said “left me baffled.”

Phillips responded, “Our fearless leader clearly doesn’t know what he wants,” and later wrote, “The flex permit doesn’t give us flexibility any more and doesn’t allow us to make modifications without deflexing that source — which will end up being a hardship in the future.”

Eventually, BP did report the emissions event, although records indicate that what was reported to regulators may have been less than what BP’s own records indicated.

A similar underreporting of emissions happened during a similar flaring event in 2009 when the 100J compressor broke down. Records show that during the earlier event, BP underreported emissions by about 300,000 pounds.

Court records show that despite claims in a deposition from Casey that refinery leaders were unaware that emissions violated the BP’s air permits, about 10 days after the emissions event started, Berlinger did inform the refinery’s leadership team that the emissions were a problem and that the flaring would violate the company’s air permit.

The team, with Casey’s backing, proceeded with the flaring for another month anyway.

BP officials declined to comment.


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