$181,000 Fine for Ethanol Air Pollution in Albany, NY

- by Brian Nearing, December 12, 2014, Times Union

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"348","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 333px; height: 118px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]An oil terminal operator at the Port of Albany has been hit with a $181,000 penalty by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for air pollution violations that lasted nearly a year.

Buckeye Partners failed to properly control vapor emissions from ethanol — a corn-based biofuel used as a gasoline additive — from trucks being loaded at the port, according to a DEC news release issued late Friday. The violations "did not result in any material air quality impacts," according to the release.

As part of a consent order reached last month, the penalty includes a $145,000 "community benefit project" that Buckeye will pay for in the neighborhood around the port. DEC will work with the community to identify the project.

In the consent order, Buckeye admitted that it failed to control ethanol vapors by not igniting and burning them off with natural gas as required. The failure lasted from September 2013 — just two months after DEC gave the company permission to double ethanol shipments — to July 2014.

The problem was found by DEC staffers during a May 2014 inspection. In September, Buckeye initially told DEC that the ethanol pollution control had been improperly operated from January 2012 to July 2014, but later shortened that period to September 2013 to July 2014.

"DEC continues to vigorously enforce New York's strict environmental rules and regulations to limit air emissions and protect public health and the environment," according to a statement from commissioner Joe Martens. "This enforcement action addresses Buckeye's failure to comply with its air permit, and will ensure that the company's operations at the Port of Albany fully meet air pollution control requirements."

The consent order did not indicate the type or amount of air pollution that may have resulted from ethanol emissions. A DEC spokesman did not return a telephone call seeking further comment.

In July 2013, DEC gave Buckeye permission to increase the amount of ethanol that it handles at the port, from 395 million gallons to 780 million gallons.

"Buckeye is working with DEC to ensure compliance with its air permit. Buckeye became aware that a piece of the air emission control equipment was not operating at its required efficiency. The problem has been corrected," said Buckeye spokesman Kevin Goodwin. "Buckeye has changed its operational procedures to ensure that it will maintain compliance with its permit and other environmental laws."

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of advocacy group Environmental Advocates of New York, said the nearly yearlong violation is an example of DEC being too short-staffed to do required inspections in a timely manner. His group has said DEC has been lax in assessing potential environmental risks from a surge in crude oil and ethanol shipments at the port by Buckeye and another oil terminal operator, Global Partners.

"DEC used to inspect such major facilities like this once a year, and now it is once every two years. While it is good they identified a problem, it went on far longer than it should have, and could have exposed people to harmful air pollutants," he said.

Buckeye owns and operates an ethanol truck loading facility on property leased from the Albany Port District Commission. The truck loading rack transfers ethanol from storage tanks to trucks for distribution.

The loading area includes an air pollution control device, called a vapor combustion unit, that reduces hydrocarbon emissions by heating vapors to high temperatures, which converts emissions into carbon dioxide and water, according to DEC.

Buckeye failed to supplement the vapor combustion unit with natural gas, which is necessary to ensure the breakdown of hydrocarbons.

Under the consent order, Buckeye implemented operational changes to the system, including installing a temperature control device that will shut down operations unless a minimum temperature is achieved, which ensures efficient combustion of hydrocarbons.

The company also agreed to provide DEC with an independent engineering report on the operation of the vapor combustor and to begin continuously recording the performance history of the combustor.