Settlement Will Cut Flaring at Plants in Louisiana and Kentucky
Five subsidiaries of Westlake Chemical Corporation — Westlake Chemical OpCo LP, Westlake Petrochemicals LLC, Westlake Polymers LLC, Westlake Styrene LLC, and Westlake Vinyls Inc. — have agreed to make upgrades and perform compliance measures estimated to cost $110M to resolve allegations that they violated the Clean Air Act and state air pollution control laws at two of their petrochemical manufacturing facilities located in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and one facility in Calvert City, Kentucky. The Westlake companies will also pay a $1M civil penalty. The settlement will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from flares.
According to the complaint, also filed today by the United States, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the State of Louisiana, the companies failed to properly operate and monitor their industrial flares, which resulted in excess emissions of harmful air pollution at the three facilities. The company regularly “oversteamed” the flares and failed to comply with other key operating constraints to ensure the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) contained in the gases routed to the flares are efficiently combusted.
“This settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency are committed to addressing excessive and harmful air pollution from improperly operated petrochemical flares,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The settlement’s significant reductions of hazardous and other air pollutants and greenhouse gases will serve to reduce exposure in the vulnerable nearby communities with environmental justice concerns.”
“This settlement will require the Westlake companies to install pollution control and emissions monitoring equipment at the three facilities, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and other harmful gases by thousands of tons per year,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Those controls, plus a requirement for fence line monitoring of benzene emissions and corrective actions when benzene readings are high, will result in significant benefits for the local communities in Kentucky and Louisiana.”
The settlement requires the three facilities to install and operate air pollution control and monitoring technology to reduce flaring and the resulting harmful air pollution from eight flares at the three facilities. Once fully implemented, the pollution controls are estimated to reduce emissions of ozone-forming VOCs by 2,258 tons per year and of toxic air pollutants, including benzene, by 65 tons per year. The settlement is also expected to reduce emissions of climate-change-causing greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and ethane, by over 50,733 tons per year.
This settlement also contains innovative injunctive relief measures that continue this administration’s efforts to use enforcement to reduce the impacts of harmful pollutants on overburdened communities and to fight climate change by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. The significant emissions reductions of VOCs and HAPs secured at the facilities serve to reduce exposure in the community to some of the same air pollutants to which they are disproportionately exposed. The improved combustion efficiency requirements, flare gas recovery system, requirements to reduce flaring, and limits on flaring included in the settlement will reduce the carbon footprint of all three facilities.
The Westlake companies will perform air quality monitoring that is designed to detect the presence of benzene at the fence lines of the three facilities. Monitoring results must be posted to a publicly available website, providing the neighboring communities with more information about their air quality. The monitoring requirements also include triggers for root cause analysis and corrective actions if fence line emissions exceed certain thresholds. Flare compliance is an ongoing priority for the EPA under its Creating Clean Air for Communities National Compliance Initiative.
The pollutants addressed by the settlement can cause significant harm to public health. VOCs are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Chronic exposure to benzene, which EPA classifies as a carcinogen, can cause numerous health impacts, including leukemia and adverse reproductive effects in women. Flares are also often large sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Flares are devices used to combust waste gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere during certain industrial operations. Well-operated flares should have high “combustion efficiency,” meaning they combust nearly all harmful waste gas constituents, like VOCs and HAPs, and turn them into water and carbon dioxide. The agreement — the eighth of its kind since 2013 — is designed to improve the Westlake companies’ flaring practices. First, it requires the company to minimize the amount of waste gas that is sent to the flares, which reduces the amount of flaring. Second, the company must improve the combustion efficiency of its flares when flaring is necessary. The Westlake companies will take several steps to minimize the waste gas sent to its flares at each facility. All three facilities will operate a flare gas recovery system that recovers and “recycles” the gases instead of sending them to be combusted in a flare. The flare gas recovery system will allow Westlake to reuse these gases as a fuel at its facilities or a product for sale. For flaring that must occur, the agreement requires that the Westlake companies install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that the gases sent to its flares are efficiently combusted.
The consent decree, lodged in the Western District Court of Louisiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The consent decree will be available for viewing at https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.