The U.S. Justice Department has announced that a federal grand jury in Corpus Christi indicted Citgo Petroleum Corp., its subsidiary, Citgo Refining and Chemicals Co., and the environmental manager at its Corpus Christi East Plant Refinery for criminal violations of the Clean Air Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Citgo was indicted on two counts of operating their Corpus Christi refinery in violation of the National Emission Standard for Benzene Waste Operations. The company was also cited for two counts of operating open top tanks as oil water separators, without first installing the emission controls required by federal and state regulations.
Clean Air Act regulations require Citgo to control the emission of benzene from wastewater produced at the refinery.
The indictment also charges the refinery's environmental manager, Philip Vrazel, with failing to identify all of the points in the refinery wastewater system where benzene was generated in a report filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the year 2000. An accurate report must be filed with the TCEQ every year.
Benzene is a hazardous air pollutant found to cause cancer in people exposed even to small amounts.
Federal regulations limit refineries to operating with no more than six megagrams of benzene in their exposed waste streams. A megagram is equal to one metric ton.
The Justice Department charges that in 2000, Citgo operated its Corpus Christi refinery with more than 57 megagrams of benzene in waste streams that were exposed to the air.
Citgo is also charged with operating with more than seven megagrams of benzene in its exposed waste streams in 2001.
Regulations governing the construction and operation of new sources of hazardous air pollutants require oil water separators to be fitted with emission control devices to prevent the release of benzene and other harmful chemicals into the environment.
According to the indictment, Citgo used two large open top tanks as oil water separators between January 1994 and May 2003 without the required emission controls.
During an unannounced inspection in March 2002, TCEQ inspectors found 4.5 million gallons of oil in the two open top tanks.
Citgo Refining and Vrazel are also facing five counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for the illegal taking of protected birds. The birds were found coated with oil as a result of landing in the open top tanks. The tanks attract the birds and must be fitted with nets or other equipment to keep birds out.
If convicted, Citgo faces fines of up to $500,000 or twice the gross economic gain, whichever is greater, and five years of probation. Vrazel faces fines of up to $500,000 and up to five years in prison.