MPCA penalizes St. Paul Park Refining for endangering the Mississippi River with benzene

Contact: Sam Brungardt, 651-757-2249

St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has fined St. Paul Park Refining Co. for failing to properly treat, store and dispose of benzene-containing wastewater at its refinery in St. Paul Park. This, the MPCA said, could have resulted in the release of benzene, a cancer-causing component of crude oil, to the Mississippi River.

Since benzene is a known human carcinogen, it and wastewater containing it must be handled as a hazardous waste.

When St. Paul Park Refining took possession of the refinery at 301 Park Road on Dec. 1, 2010, the refinery’s wastewater treatment plant was failing to remove benzene from the refinery’s wastewater. St. Paul Park Refining discharged hazardous waste benzene process wastewater to an unlined lagoon next to the Mississippi River as Marathon Petroleum, the previous owner of the refinery, had done. Liquids in the unlined lagoon could migrate to shallow groundwater and then to the river. (Last year, Marathon Petroleum paid a civil penalty of $700,000 for improperly disposing of benzene-containing wastewater and for other violations of environmental laws.)

The MPCA said that between Jan. 4, 2011, and Sept. 10, 2012, St. Paul Park Refining discharged more than 4 million gallons of wastewater, which the company estimated contained 2.7 gallons of benzene, to the unlined lagoon.

In addition to failing to properly treat, store, and dispose of the hazardous waste benzene process wastewater it generated, the MPCA also said that St. Paul Park Refining had:

  • operated without a hazardous waste facility permit issued by the MPCA;
  • failed to manage its facility in a way that minimizes the unplanned release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents that could threaten human health or the environment;
  • failed to send 117 signed manifests to the MPCA;
  • sent two signed manifests to the MPCA late;
  • failed to properly store a 55-gallon container of hazardous waste mercury; and
  • failed to report and clean up a spill of untreated wastewater containing hazardous waste.

St. Paul Park Refining has replaced the old wastewater treatment plant with a new one, which it said cost $42 million. The new plant, which went on line this June, does not discharge wastewater to on-site lagoons.

Under the terms of a stipulation agreement, St. Paul Park Refining has paid a civil penalty of $40,000 to the MPCA. A stipulation agreement is one of the tools the MPCA uses to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account the severity of the violation, the impact or potential impact to the environment, whether it was a first-time or repeat violation, and the intent or carelessness of the regulated party.

In addition to paying the penalty, St. Paul Park Refining has taken corrective actions that ensure it will properly handle and store hazardous wastes. It has also told the MPCA how it will comply with the agency’s requirements for submitting manifests on time, and how any hazardous waste that is leaked or spilled will be recovered and stored in accordance with state and federal rules.

St. Paul Park Refining operates its wastewater treatment plant under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the management of wastewater that may contain petroleum constituents.

A complete list of penalties issued by the MPCA is available on the agency’s website.