The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Valero Refining Company-California agreed on a settlement this week that will force the oil company to pay a $157,800 fine for mismanagement of hazardous waste and toxic chemicals at its Benicia crude oil refinery.
The EPA cited the oil company for illegally disposing benzene -- a known human carcinogen -- into an unlined stormwater retention pond in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which governs the management and disposal of hazardous waste. The settlement also covers violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, where Valero failed to inform the public about all of its toxic chemical releases.
The violations were discovered during a routine EPA inspection of the facility in May 2014.
"This settlement was primarily driven by difficulty we experienced on a handful of occasions during some extreme weather events that occurred a number of years ago, and the agreement outlines what we are doing improve the refinery's ability to handle extreme rainfall events in the future," said Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas in a statement.
As part of the settlement, Valero will have to improve its piping by June 2017 to prevent similar toxic releases in the future. These improvements would allow hazardous waste to be recycled into the system instead of discharged into a stormwater basin, and the EPA estimates they will prevent 5,000 pounds of benzene from being released into the environment over the next 10 years.
"Any stormwater that could potentially get into the groundwater and/or into the bay are major concerns with the violations," said Joel Jones, assistant director for enforcement for EPA Region 9. Jones said that even though these were relatively minor violations, the dense population surrounding the Benicia refinery makes it crucial that Valero comply with regulations.
"In any case where there are violations, we take it very seriously even if they're minor," Jones said, "and the companies are fairly responsive to solving those issues."
Other violations covered by the settlement include failing to determine if solid waste generated at the Benicia refinery was hazardous, failing to minimize the risk of unplanned chemical releases and failing to maintain complete and accurate records at the facility.