82.1 F
Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, March 30, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesEPA: No Comments Yet on Hovensa Request Over Groundwater Leaks

EPA: No Comments Yet on Hovensa Request Over Groundwater Leaks

April 10, 2008 — V.I. residents have a little more than two weeks left to submit public comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding a permit change requested by Hovensa.
The EPA has worked with the refinery for the last 20 years on groundwater cleanup following the 1982 discovery of petroleum leaks from underground tanks. Since that time some 42 million gallons of petroleum has been reclaimed, with 1.2 million gallons still to be recovered.
The 60-day comment period, which began in February, ends April 26. No comments have been made to date, said Beth Totman, EPA press officer.
"They have 16 more days to submit their comments," she said.
Residents were given an informal opportunity at a March 12 meeting to make comments directly to EPA officials. None were made then, according to Totman.
"The meeting on March 12 was very informal and there were some questions that we answered, but no comments were submitted," she said.
The meeting was held at the refinery, with officials from both the EPA and Hovensa present. At issue are groundwater cleanup and modifications to waste-treatment operations at the 1,500-acre refinery, the Western Hemisphere's second-largest.
The amount of petroleum being cleaned up from the groundwater totaled nearly four times that of the worst oil spill in U.S. history — the Exxon Valdez spill on the Alaskan coast in 1989. The tanker spilled about 10.8 million gallons of oil, causing a 3,000-square-mile oil slick that devastated the Prince William Sound ecosystem and still affects Alaska's fisheries after nearly 19 years. The case is still in litigation and last month went before the U.S. Supreme Court as Exxon contests the punitive damages awarded at trial.
But comparing the Hovensa leaks to the Exxon Valdez spill is essentially unfair for several reasons, Totman said Thursday.
"There was some validity to concerns by Hovensa over the comparison, the first being that the results of the slow leak and seepages came mostly from underground tankers — the Exxon Valdez was catastrophic in terms of time frame. It was a large oil spill at one time."
While Hovensa reclaimed 42 million gallons of petroleum over a 20-year-period, "all that oil was present at the surface and at the same moment in time, Totman said. She continued, "It's not like 42 million gallons of oil floating on top of the surface water, right now."
The leaks at Hovensa, Totman said, did not impact residents or the environment outside the refinery.
"Hovensa's release impacted groundwater, not the surface water, and it's been largely confined on site and has not impacted off-site land or water," she said. "With the Exxon Valdez, the release was directly into the public domain and not on Exxon-owned land."
And while the Exxon Valdez spill had a huge impact on human health and the environment, the Hovensa release was different.
"Based on EPA's evaluation at this time, the Hovensa groundwater releases have not posed any unacceptable risk to human health or the environment," Totman said. "With the Exxon Valdez, it had a very large environmental impact."
The leak was discovered in 1982 when the company was still named Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp. (HOVIC), said Hovensa Vice President Alex Moorhead in background information released in advance of the March 12 meeting. He said then that "approximately 95 percent of recoverable petroleum products have been recovered," and that percentage came out to 42 million gallons of recovered petroleum product.
HOVIC notified the EPA as well as the V.I. Department of Conservation and Cultural Affairs — now known as the Department of Planning and Natural Resources — after it discovered petroleum product in the groundwater under the refinery, Moorhead said. Hovensa continues to submit updates to both agencies, he said.
The recovered groundwater is treated in the refinery's wastewater treatment system to separate the petroleum product from the water and to ensure that the water meets DPNR's standards before it is discharged into the sea. The recovered petroleum is recycled in the refinery, according to Moorhead.
Hovensa has also instituted measures to prevent future releases, and this includes ensuring that all hydrocarbon and/or chemical storage tanks, which are not elevated, are tested on an annual basis for any leak, he said.
The tanks are also taken out of service every 10 years for physical inspection of their mechanical integrity under actual load conditions by an EPA-allowed mass-measurement method, he said. Any tank found to be leaking or that fails a test is taken out of service. All underground hydrocarbon lines are pressure tested annually for leaks, and process wastewater lines are hydrostatically tested at a minimum of every three years for the same purpose.
To comment on Hovensa's permit-change request, mail comments no later than April 26 to Adolph Everett, Chief, RCRA Program Branch, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 290 Broadway, 22nd Floor, New York, NY 10007-1866.
To view documents related to the proposed decisions, contact DPNR, Attention: Syad Syadali, 46 Mars Hill, Frederiksted, or call 773-1082.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.