Total Petroleum to Pay Penalty for Leaks Affecting V.I. and Puerto Rico

Total Puerto Rico has agreed to pay a $426,000 civil penalty, spend about a million dollars on environmental compliance measures and put in a $600,000 centralized monitoring system to prevent leaks in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, in a court settlement announced Monday.

The settlement between Total and the U.S. Government resolves Resource Conservation Recovery Act violations alleged at 31 gas stations in Puerto Rico and four gas stations in the U.S. Virgin Islands that contain underground storage tanks owned by Total Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Virgin Islands. These underground storage tanks typically hold large quantities of gasoline and can cause significant environmental damage if allowed to leak.

In the complaint filed at the same time as the lodging of the consent decree, the U.S. alleged that Total Puerto Rico, as an owner of the storage tanks at the gas stations, violated RCRA and the Puerto Rico Underground Storage Tank Control Regulations by failing to report and investigate suspected leaks, monitor for leaks; provide adequate protection against corrosion and overflows; adequately secure dispensers and lines against tampering when facilities were temporarily closed; adequately secure monitoring wells against tampering; and maintain records of release detection monitoring.

This settlement incorporates provisions consistent with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Next Generation enforcement efforts, which focus on increasing compliance with environmental regulations by combining the use of advanced technologies, such as pollution detection systems and information technologies, with traditional compliance measures.

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The centralized monitoring in Monday’s agreement will enable Total Puerto Rico to rapidly identify and respond to actual or potential gas leaks at its gas stations with storage tanks, each of which will be equipped with onsite electronic release detection monitoring equipment that will be enhanced with the capability to transmit monitoring data to one central location in real time year-round.

“This settlement will require Total Puerto Rico to address the risk of gas leaks comprehensively by installing advanced electronic release detection monitoring equipment in all gas stations at which Total owns actively operating USTs,” Assistant Attorney General John Cruden said in a statement.

“Leaking underground petroleum tanks are a serious problem because they can contaminate groundwater with pollutants such as benzene, which is known to cause cancer,” EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said.

“This agreement includes an innovative centralized monitoring system, which will protect the environment by helping to ensure that the underground tanks at many gas stations across Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Virgin Islands will now be properly monitored and maintained," she said.

Total Puerto Rico will install, or upgrade to, a fully automated electronic release detection monitoring system at 137 facilities with Total-owned tanks in use and will operate the systems for at least three years. This will connect lines with probing sensors within the tanks to an onsite computer console unit with alarms to alert nearby gas station personnel of gas leaks and other potentially dangerous events.

The obligation to install automated release detection monitoring systems will extend to stations acquired by Total Puerto Rico after the date of lodging of the consent decree.

Total Puerto Rico’s voluntary undertaking of a SEP – the implementation, operation and maintenance of a centralized monitoring capability estimated to cost approximately $600,000 – will connect at least 125 of the facilities with electronic release detection monitoring systems to a central location. Total Puerto Rico will also provide quarterly reports to EPA regarding its operation of these systems and will be required to provide information regarding their operation upon EPA’s request, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

This is the second judicial settlement in Puerto Rico requiring a defendant to implement company-wide automated electronic release detection with a centralized monitoring capability. A settlement in 2011 with Chevron Puerto Rico covered over 140 gas stations for a period of five years. With today’s proposed settlement with Total Puerto Rico, more than 250 gas stations throughout Puerto Rico will have electronic release detection equipment and centralized monitoring.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and is conditioned upon approval by the U.S. District Court before becoming final.

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