$385K Fine for Calumet Montana Refinery for Safety Violations

by Duane Nichols on December 19, 2023

Calumet Montana Refinery on a cold November day in 2019

Calumet Montana Refinery in Great Falls fined $385K for lax reporting, poor record keeping

From an Article by David Murray, Great Falls Tribune, December 18, 2023

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fined the Calumet Montana Refinery in Great Falls $385,000 for violations of U.S. Clean Air Act, related to the refinery’s failure to develop an adequate Risk Management Plan (RMP) that would help prevent chemical accidents and provide guidance for an emergency response in case of a “worst case scenario.”

The EPA’s consent agreement focuses most closely on Calumet’s handling of hydrofluoric acid, a catalyst used to produce high-octane gasoline. In addition to being a highly corrosive liquid, hydrofluoric acid is also a powerful contact poison. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hydrofluoric acid poisoning can readily occur through exposure to the skin or eyes, or when inhaled or swallowed.

“The Calumet facility is subject to Clean Air Act RMP regulations because it stores and processes large quantities of flammable mixtures and hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic substance that may cause severe injury, burns or death when released into air,” an EPA news release states. “The RMP rule requires facilities holding more than 10,000 pounds of flammable mixture or 1,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid to develop a RMP and submit that plan to EPA.

The EPA’s report does not contain any allegations that a specific hazardous release of hydrofluoric acid occurred at any point at the refinery, but it does report that EPA inspectors recorded 40 violations of the Chemical Accident Prevention Provisions of the Clean Air Act dating back to an inspection that occurred in September 2019. It also states that Calumet Montana Refinery officials failed to fully correct all the past violations as mandated by a July 7, 2023, deadline.

The EPA report summarizes “potentially dangerous conditions” observed by EPA inspectors during the September 2019 inspection that included Calumet’s failure to incorporate its flare system to burn off excess hydrocarbon gasses within the Clean Air Act analysis or to develop an adequate risk management plan for containing regulated substances.

Calumet also failed to include a response plan for a “worst case scenario” in the event of a catastrophic failure of its hydrofluoric acid containment system, did not disclose the greatest quantity of hydrofluoric acid contained within a single vessel and did not disclose the full breadth of the geographic area that a catastrophic release of hydrofluoric acid could potentially effect during a worst-case event.

The EPA also cited Calumet for engineering laxes within the system it uses to remove sulfur and other impurities from crude oil. These included a length of refinery piping held up by a temporary support stand, and the refinery’s failure to develop clear, written operating procedures for its employees in the event of an emergency refinery shutdown.

The Consent Agreement also notes that the Calumet Refinery had no 24-hour emergency contact telephone number, and that the existing number was an office line with that staff only attended during regular business hours.

Calumet neither admits or denies the alleged violations but consented to payment of the full $385,000 in civil penalties alleged in the EPA’s complaint. Calumet also waived its right to seek any reduction or waive of the fine through a judicial or administrative hearing.

“Facilities must properly handle hazardous substances to prevent dangerous chemical accidents and follow reporting requirements when releases occur,” said Suzanne Bohan, director of EPA Region 8’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “If they don’t, EPA will hold them accountable.”

“RMPs (Risk Management Plans) address the proper design and maintenance of equipment such as pipes and vessels, emergency preparedness and the ability to minimize releases that may occur,” the release goes on to explain. “They provide valuable information to local fire, police and emergency response personnel to prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies.”

While the EPA’s Consent Agreement was critical in its numeration of Calumet Montana Refinery’s code violations, the news release did praise the refinery’s willingness to correct the problems in a timely manner.

“The company has been cooperative in correcting all identified deficiencies to reduce the possibility of an accidental release,” the EPA release states. “We are pleased that Calumet Montana Refining is implementing critical safety measures to protect workers and the community.”

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