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Tuesday, July 5, 2022
HomeNewsLocal newsBryan Urges Quick Refinery Restart Despite Grave Health Concerns

Bryan Urges Quick Refinery Restart Despite Grave Health Concerns

The twin towers of Limetree Bay refinery's coker rise in the distance on Tuesday, May 25, on the south shore of St. Croix, USVI. A coker malfunction contributed to the refinery's shutdown and bankruptcy. (Source photo by Patricia Borns)
The twin towers of Limetree Bay refinery’s coker rise in the distance on Tuesday, May 25, on the south shore of St. Croix, USVI. A coker malfunction contributed to the refinery’s shutdown and bankruptcy. (Source photo by Patricia Borns)

Citing both urgent international and local reasons, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. urged President Joe Biden Wednesday to help pave the way for the reopening of St. Croix’s massive oil refinery as soon as possible.

Without giving specific complaints regarding the plant’s timeline to reopen, Bryan called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do its work quickly.

“The U.S. EPA must work to ensure that the refinery does not endanger public health, but it should not put unnecessary roadblocks in the way of restarting this important asset,” Bryan said in a written statement.

The Bryan communications team did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking clarification on what unnecessary roadblocks he referred to.

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The EPA is assessing whether the refinery’s new owners, Jamaica-based West Indies Petroleum and partners, can reopen the plant capable of producing four million gallons of gasoline a day under the terms of its 2018 permits or needs new permits.

On March 22, the EPA sent a letter to West Indies Petroleum saying current information on the refinery’s condition strongly suggests it will need a Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit prior to any restart of operations. The permit applies to new major sources or major modifications to existing sources for pollutants.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 23 days after the letter was sent, West Indies Petroleum Limited and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation had not responded to EPA’s information request, said an EPA public affairs specialist.

Messages to West Indies Petroleum Limited and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, which bought the refinery formerly known as Hovensa and Limetree Bay for $62 million at a bankruptcy auction in December, were not immediately returned.

Health and environmental concerns have plagued the petroleum plant since its opening. In recent years it has been blamed for oil rain contaminating soil, cisterns, and groundwater.

Bryan’s statement acknowledged the plant’s troubled history but said its 200,000-barrel-a-day petroleum output would help offset rising fuel prices and global sanctions against Russian oil. He cited pandemic-related supply chain issues, inflation, the war in Ukraine, high prices at the gas pump, and economic stability in the USVI as reasons to reopen the refinery as soon as possible. He said the refinery’s new owners “are anxious to make the necessary investments and efforts to restart it.”

“We want to work with EPA to ensure that the refinery restarts safely and promptly, and we need the administration’s help to do that,” he said of the Biden leadership.

The EPA asked about past and future changes to the refinery’s process and emission units.

To determine whether the refinery needs to obtain a new permit, the EPA asked refinery owners to send details about physical changes to the plant after 2018. EPA agents want to know details of the changes, including what the change was, why it was made, whether equipment was modified or replaced, the potential to emit for the changed equipment, and the cost of the work. They also want to know which parts of the plant West Indies Petroleum plans to reopen and whether there are plans to make physical changes in those areas, as well as information on potential emissions. The sprawling refinery is capable of making a vast array of petroleum-based fuels. The EPA wants to know what West Indies Petroleum has in mind to refine, according to the letter.

The last question in the letter asked how changes made by Limetree affect emissions from the refinery and how planned changes might affect future emissions.

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