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The San Francisco Chronicle: Martinez emissions to cost Shell millions

Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 2007

Shell Oil has agreed to pay nearly $3 million in penalties for excessive carbon-monoxide emissions from its Martinez refinery in March, Bay Area air-quality regulators said Wednesday.

On March 9, three carbon-monoxide boilers shut down, causing excess emissions of about 925 tons of carbon monoxide (CO) over the course of a week, in violation of federal regulations, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

As part of an out-of-court settlement with the district, Shell must pay $2.85 million in penalties, said the air district, which has also restricted the refinery’s production limits and operations until it receives an incident report on the emissions.

“The significant volume of CO released warranted this penalty,” Air District Counsel Brian Bunger said in a statement. “The magnitude of the violations also justifies the additional actions required of Shell.”

The mishap occurred at the Shell refinery at 3485 Pacheco Blvd. in Martinez when three carbon-monoxide boilers shut down. The boilers provide steam to the facility and help control carbon-monoxide emissions at the 165,000-barrel-per-day refinery, said Shell spokesman Steve Lesher.

Lesher said Wednesday that no one was injured and there was no “community impact” as a result of the incident. He acknowledged that the refinery had been “out of compliance” with its operating permit with the district as a result of the emissions.

“We’re never pleased to be in any kind of violation,” Lesher said. “We want to run this place in a way that puts people and the planet first, and in cases in which we don’t live up to that, we want to step up and do the right thing.”

Lesher said the incident was caused in part by a crack in steam-system piping and a valve malfunction and that all mechanical problems related to the boiler system have been repaired.

In the eight-page settlement agreement, the air quality district praised Shell for immediately notifying officials about the incident and making repairs.

The Martinez facility had never before exceeded its annual carbon-monoxide emission limit, Lesher said. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that can be dangerous at high concentrations.

E-mail Henry K. Lee at [email protected].

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