Total Petroleum Puerto Rico Corp. and the U.S. government announced a settlement agreement Monday related to alleged company violations against the Resource Conservation Recovery Act at 31 gas stations in Puerto Rico and four in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Total Puerto Rico failed to properly operate underground storage tanks, which typically hold large quantities of gasoline and can cause significant environmental damage if allowed to leak, at those stations.
As a result, Total Puerto Rico agreed to pay a $426,000 civil penalty, implement compliance measures valued at approximately $1 million, and undertake a supplemental environmental project consisting of a centralized monitoring system estimated to cost approximately $600,000.
“Leaking underground petroleum tanks are a serious problem because they can contaminate groundwater with pollutants such as benzene, which is known to cause cancer,” said Regional Administrator Judith Enck for EPA.
“This agreement includes an innovative centralized monitoring system, which will protect the environment by helping to ensure that the underground tanks at many gas stations across Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Virgin Islands will now be properly monitored and maintained,” she added.
In the complaint filed simultaneously with the lodging of the consent decree, the U.S. government alleged that Total Puerto Rico, as an owner of the underground storage tanks at the gas stations, violated Resource Conservation Recovery Act and the Puerto Rico Underground Storage Tank Control Regulations “by failing to report and investigate suspected leaks, monitor for leaks; provide adequate protection against corrosion and overflows, adequately secure dispensers and lines against tampering when facilities were temporarily closed, adequately secure monitoring wells against tampering and maintain records of release detection monitoring.”
The settlement announced Monday includes provisions consistent with the EPA’s “Next Generation” enforcement efforts, which focus on increasing compliance with environmental regulations by combining the use of advanced technologies, such as pollution detection systems and information technologies, with traditional compliance measures.
The centralized monitoring component of the agreement will enable Total Puerto Rico “to rapidly identify and respond to actual or potential gas leaks at its gas stations with actively operating [underground storage tanks], each of which will be equipped with on-site electronic release detection monitoring equipment that will be enhanced with the Next Generation capability to transmit monitoring data to one central location on a 24/7/365 basis.”
“This settlement will require Total Puerto Rico to address the risk of gas leaks comprehensively by installing advanced electronic release detection monitoring equipment in all gas stations at which Total owns actively operating USTs,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“The settlement also obligates Total Puerto Rico to install state-of-the art centralized monitoring technology, a ‘Next Generation’ tool that will enable the company to provide around-the-clock surveillance from a single location for over one hundred gas stations,” he said.
As part of the settlement, Total Puerto Rico will install, or upgrade to, a fully automated electronic release detection monitoring system at 137 facilities and will operate the systems for at least three years.
This compliance measure, will cost the company about $1 million, and will connect lines with probing sensors within the underground storage tanks to an on-site computer console unit that has audible and visible alarms capable of alerting nearby gas station personnel of gas leaks and other potentially dangerous events.
This is the second judicial settlement in Puerto Rico requiring a defendant to implement company-wide automated electronic release detection with a centralized monitoring capability.
A settlement in 2011 with Chevron Puerto Rico covered over 140 gas stations for a period of five years. With Monday’s proposed settlement with Total Puerto Rico, more than 250 gas stations throughout Puerto Rico will have electronic release detection equipment and centralized monitoring, the EPA said.
The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and is conditioned upon approval by the United States District Court before becoming final.