Company cited for 44 infractions between 2017 and 2019
Mercury News, by Shomik Mukherjee, October 15, 2021
MARTINEZ — Shell Oil has agreed to pay air quality regulators a $433,000 penalty for dozens of environmental violations at the oil refinery it once operated.
The refinery amassed 44 violations between 2017 and 2019, largely for emitting excessive amounts of pollutants that studies have shown to cause long-term health problems.
PBF Energy acquired the refinery from Shell in 2019 for $1 billion.
It’s the second settlement reached in a month involving environmental violations at one of Martinez’s two oil refineries. Marathon Petroleum agreed last month to pay $2 million to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District over violations at its now idled Martinez oil refinery, previously operated by oil company Tesoro.
Earlier this year, the air quality district voted to require refineries to dramatically reduce air pollution by upgrading their technology.
The latest settlement will pay for future inspections and enforcement of environmental regulations, the air quality district said.
“Ensuring that we all have clean air to breathe is the Air District’s top priority,” Jack Broadbent, the district’s executive officer, said in a written a statement. “This settlement is one way we hold Shell Oil accountable for its violations of air quality regulations and continue to safeguard clean air for all Bay Area residents.”
The refinery’s former management was found to have improperly monitored the facility’s flare pilots, which burn gas at low amounts to keep the flare system running correctly.
Once the pilots were extinguished, the refinery began emitting excess amounts of harmful pollutants, including hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, according to the air quality district.
The refinery was also flagged for not correctly sealing its storage tanks, as well as for failing to report violations and keep records up to date.
All the infractions have since been corrected, the air quality district said. An analysis earlier this year by district staff estimated that PBF’s emissions were responsible for six premature deaths each year.
Although East Bay oil refineries historically have employed a lot of people, recent brushes with environmental regulations have thrown their future into question.
PBF Energy, which acquired the Martinez refinery from Shell, warned earlier this year that the costs of cutting emissions by 70% — as required by the air quality district — will force it to shut down the refinery. Chevron, which owns a refinery in Richmond, also pushed back against the mandate.
Meanwhile, the Marathon-owned Golden Eagle Refinery in Martinez is no longer in operation. According to Marathon, the refinery is being transitioned into a facility that will produce fuels that emit less carbon than petroleum diesel.