Photo: Courtesy of leungchopan
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the U.S. Virgin Islands' Limetree Bay refinery in Saint Croix must develop a plan to install 18 air monitors--nine hydrogen sulfide and nine sulfur dioxide monitors around the island (reuters.com).
The EPA's decree follows their cease order of all refinery operations for at least 60 days beginning mid-May 2021. The EPA ordered the facility to close following a series of incidents that polluted the air and water supply of the nearby community.
Before the EPA's cease order, the refinery had voluntarily stopped processing after showering nearby homes with an oily mist for the second time this year, which exceeded the plant's permit for sulfur dioxide emissions (reuters.com). According to the EPA, even short-term exposure to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult (reuters.com).
The 200,000-barrel-per-day, 1,500-acre Caribbean refinery restarted operations this year after sitting vacant for about ten years (reuters.com). Its former owners filed for bankruptcy in 2015, facing heavy losses and U.S. Clean Air Act violations that required millions of dollars in upgrades (reuters.com).
In 2016, Boston-based private equity firm Arclight Capital Partners acquired it and recruited other investors, including EIG Global Partners, to fund approximately $3 billion worth of improvements to the facility (reuters.com). Despite the upgrades, problems with the refinery equipment delayed the restart several times.
Since the facility reopened, nearby St. Croix residents have complained of breathing problems and headaches (reuters.com). Currently, Limetree faces four class actions from "hundreds of St. Croix residents seeking compensation for property damages and medical monitoring" (reuters.com).
The EPA's acting Regional Administrator, Walter Mugdan, says the EPA recognizes the economic importance of Limetree, which employs 400 people on an island that is primarily reliant on tourism for jobs (reuters.com). However, according to Mugdan, "Addressing environmental justice issues is a priority for EPA" (reuters.com).