BP refinery fined $32,000 for sulfur dioxide leak
By Jack Kintner
A failed instrument at the BP Cherry Point Refinery resulted in the release of hundreds of pounds of sulphuric acid-producing sulphur dioxide and nearly three tons of particulate matter beyond allowable limits last September, according to Jamie Randles of the Northwest Clean Air Agency.
This was just one month before the refinery missed a deadline for other required reports that were as much as two years late.
February the agency issued $32,000 in fines for the two unrelated
violations, which the refinery did not contest and has agreed to pay.
“To be fair,” Randles said, “BP Cherry Point typically has fewer air pollution violations than the other three refineries in northwest Washington even though it’s the biggest.”
Randles said that in 2004, the last year for which figures were available, the refinery put out 1,532 tons of sulphur dioxide and 129 tons of particulate matter.
Using these figures the amount released during last falls’ violation was equal to about seven percent of one day’s allowable sulphur dioxide emissions and nine days of allowable particulate emissions.
“The sulphur dioxide in the exhaust gasses readily combines with water vapor in the air to make sulphuric acid,” said Randles, “but it disperses quickly.
“Our sense was that the amount released last fall was not something you’d have noticed above and beyond their normal output.”
The spew of sulfur dioxide mist began last September 26 and went on for six days without being noticed until October 1, BP spokesman Mike Abendhof said.
Abendhof said the release was caused by a valve that failed on a calciner stack but that due to faulty equipment there was no indication that anything was wrong.
A calciner stack uses heat and airflow to turn liquid high-level waste into a solid, in this case hard carbon anodes that BP Cherry Point sells to Intalco for use in making aluminum.
“We don’t like to see this happen, even though there’s a million things that can go wrong in such a complicated system. We try hard to make sure everything’s working one hundred percent, and this appeared to be working OK, but it wasn’t.”
Both BP Cherry Point and ConocoPhillips, Whatcom County’s other refinery, have been cited for 12 such air quality violations in the last three and a half years, Randles said.