EPA suspects Chevron knew of violation

Posted: Sunday, January 24, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seized computers, files, photos and other records as part of its investigation into whether Chevron knowingly violated air pollution permits at two remote facilities on the west side of Cook Inlet.

The searches authorized by U.S. Magistrate Deborah Smith occurred Jan. 12-13 at Chevron's Trading Bay Production Facility and Granite Point Tank Farm, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

In seeking a warrant, EPA Special Agent Matthew Goers told the judge his agency had enough information to suspect Chevron - and possibly its subsidiaries, managers and employees - committed Clean Air Act violations and made false statements to the federal government.

At Trading Bay and Granite Point, a Chevron subsidiary processes and stores crude oil from Cook Inlet production platforms. The company then ships the oil to a refinery in Nikiski.

The alleged violations began in 2006, when Chevron shut down a vapor control unit for two of its oil storage tanks at Trading Bay. The vapor control units were designed to capture vapor from the oil before it leaves the tanks. Shutting the units down allowed air pollution to escape, Goers wrote.

Chevron had described the tanks to regulators in 2006 and 2007 as "insignificant sources" of pollution that emitted no more than two tons per year of volatile organic compounds and 2 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants.

Instead, the Trading Bay tanks released more than 100 tons per year of volatile organics into the air from 2006 to 2008, Goers wrote. The Granite Point tanks released more than 15 tons per year of crude oil vapors in the same time period.

Chevron, in a written statement, said it's cooperating with the investigation.

"In May of 2008, we provided the government with voluntary disclosure relating to these issues and have been cooperating with the government's information requests since that time," the statement said. "We take such noncompliance allegations seriously."

The purpose for the search warrants was to gather evidence that the company knowingly withheld information and gave "material false statements" to environmental regulators, Goers wrote.

From 2006 to 2008, Chevron submitted documents to environmental regulators saying its Cook Inlet facilities complied with their air permits. In 2007, company officials told regulators that they were still using the vapor control system at Trading Bay, and that the tanks were not venting to the atmosphere, Goers wrote.

In 2008, Chevron sent a letter to state regulators saying it had potentially been violating its Clean Air Act permit at Trading Bay since shutting down its vapor control unit two years earlier.

In 2009, a state inspector visited Granite Point and asked a Chevron operator how its vapors were recovered. The operator said the vapor control unit "was not operating at the time because a necessary compressor was not operating." Regulators later learned the unit had shut down in 2007, Goers wrote.

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