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EPA and Murphy Oil agree on cleanup

A cleanup agreement between Murphy Oil USA and the Environmental Protection Agency is the 27th settlement the agency has reached with refineries across the country, with eight more to go, according to the EPA's lead attorney, John Fogarty.

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A cleanup agreement between Murphy Oil USA and the Environmental Protection Agency is the 27th settlement the agency has reached with refineries across the country, with eight more to go, according to the EPA's lead attorney, John Fogarty.

Murphy Oil agreed Tuesday to pay $1.25 million in penalties to the U.S. government and the states of Wisconsin and Louisiana to settle allegations that it operated its refineries in Superior and Meraux, La., in violation of the Clean Air Act. Murphy also agreed to install air pollution

measures to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. In Superior, nitrogen oxide would be reduced by 56.5 tons, sulfur dioxide by 446 tons and particulate matter by 12.3 tons.

"The EPA has been working our way through the refining industry to

address the largest sources of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from refineries," Fogarty said.

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According to the 158-page consent decree, Murphy's refineries in Superior and Meraux were modified in recent years, resulting in significant increases in nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and other particulate

matter. In making those modifications, Murphy failed to obtain proper

construction permits, use best available control technology and fully and accurately identify emissions from its refineries.

The alleged violations exposed the company to daily fines ranging from $27,000 to $37,500 since 2004.

Superior refinery manager Dave Podratz said the company has been working with state and federal regulators the past five years on the proposed decree.

"There's been an effort by the (Environmental Protection Agency) for the past 10 years to get all the refineries in the U.S. covered by consent decrees. ... This one is similar to the decrees covering 90 percent of the refineries in the U.S.," Podratz said.

Work on lowering emissions at the Superior refinery began in June and will be completed within four years as new burners are installed on the refinery's four boiler units, he said.

"The work at the Superior refinery won't be as extensive as at Meraux, La.," he said. "We've been under a different consent decree since 2002, and this one largely brings Meraux into the fold."

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Murphy Oil budgeted about $142 million to bring its refineries into environmental compliance, but only about $6 million is budgeted for work at the Superior refinery, he said. Murphy added one employee after installing equipment required in the 2002 consent decree, and that employment won't be affected by work required in the proposed decree, Podratz said.

Work at the Meraux refinery could take up to nine years to complete, according to the company.

In the consent decree filed Tuesday in federal court, Murphy would pay $229,687 to the state of Wisconsin, $395,312 to Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality and $625,000 to the United States.

Murphy announced plans in July to exit the refinery business and sell its refineries in the United States and the United Kingdom. Podratz said the decree could answer questions potential buyers may have about Murphy's future operations at Superior and Meraux.

"We're getting more information together (about the possible sale) and will entertain offers in the future," Podratz said.

Plans announced in 2007 to expand the Superior refinery remained shelved, Podratz said. The demand for gasoline has decreased in the past few years, and Murphy wants to exit the business, not expand, he said.

Jan Conley with the Lake Superior Greens said getting the Superior refinery in compliance has been a high priority. She said this settlement is a sign of a more aggressive EPA, but adds her group still would like to see health studies done on people who live downwind of the refinery.

Along with nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide reductions, the settlement also will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and carbon monoxide. These pollutants can cause serious respiratory problems and exacerbate cases of childhood asthma, among other adverse health effects, according to a statement released by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

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"Compliance with Wisconsin's and federal air pollution control laws is essential to keep a level economic playing field between all Wisconsin businesses and their competitors, and to protect public health," Van Hollen said in the prepared statement.

Mike Simonson of Wisconsin Public Radio contributed to this report.

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENTSUPERIOR
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