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WWLTV: Local environmental group releases report on excess emissions from refineries

by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS — In a report to be released on Monday, a local environmental advocacy group is highlighting what may be coming out of the state’s refineries, outside normal emission parameters.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade examined state emissions data from 10 of the state’s 17 oil refineries. What they found is that the refineries have released anywhere from hundreds of thousands, to millions of pounds of additional emissions during a four-year period, from 2005 to 2008.

The information is based on reports that the refineries have filed with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. By law, the refineries have to report each time they release chemicals, in what they call “unplanned releases.” The Bucket Brigade calls them “accidents.”

“When we did this research, we didn’t know what we would find,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “If you’re going on I-10 west, towards Baton Rouge, and you look to your left, and you see flares, those are refinery accidents in progress. Really, these are all around us and I think when people see these things, they ought to know what they are seeing.”

Among the refineries listed in the report and the pounds of pollution released outside the norm, from 2005-2008:

Motiva Enterprises in Norco, St. Charles Parish– 354,021 pounds
Marathon Petroleum in Garyville, St. John the Baptist Parish– 464,538 pounds
Murphy Oil in Meraux, St. Bernard Parish– 927,983 pounds
Chalmette Refining in Chalmette, St. Bernard Parish– 6,202,259 pounds
Valero Refining in Norco, St. Charles Parish– 221,215 pounds

A spokesperson for Marathon said their refinery is fully transparent about their emission numbers. They also said they are finishing construction on a new $4 billion, state-of-the-art refinery in Garyville, which will begin operating at the end of the month.

Several of the refineries said they had yet to see the Bucket Brigade’s report. Not all of the refineries responded to requests for an on-camera interview, but a spokesperson for Valero Refining did.

“Since we purchased the refinery in Norco in 2003, we’ve reduced the emissions from the plant by 50 percent,” said Ron Guillory, with Valero St. Charles Refinery public affairs. “Generally, refineries run, and from time to time they have problems with some of the equipment that shuts down for some reason. And when that happens, we have to flare and flaring is a safety process. So, we flare these gases and burn them off and that’s usually what the unplanned releases are about.”

For Suzanne Kneale, though, the report validates what she said she experiences in her neighborhood, located near one of the refineries in St. Bernard Parish.

“My children are asthmatic, and when the chemical odors are so intense that we find ourselves sheltering in place, that certainly doesn’t help,” Kneale said.

On the heels of compiling the report, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade said they have invited representatives of all the refineries to a roundtable meeting, with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to discuss how to reduce unplanned releases. The roundtable is scheduled for February.

Copyright WWLTV