Murphy Oil Liable for Air Permit Violations at Louisiana Refinery

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, February 5, 2010 (ENS) – A neighborhood association in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana has won a partial victory in federal court against Murphy Oil USA Inc. in an air pollution lawsuit.

Concerned Citizens Around Murphy, a St. Bernard Parish association was granted legal standing to bring a citizen’s enforcement action against the oil company under the federal Clean Air Act.

The court also granted Concerned Citizens’ motion for summary judgment as to Murphy Oil’s liability for 21 violations of its air permit at the company’s Meraux petrochemical refinery, operating in Meraux since 1961.

Representing the neighborhood association, student attorneys from Tulane University’s Environmental Law Clinic successfully demonstrated that Murphy Oil’s Meraux refinery frequently violated its air permits by exceeding emission limits and continued to violate the permits even after plaintiffs filed suit.

Murphy Oil USA’s Meraux refinery (Photo courtesy Concerned Citizens Around Murphy)

U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance issued an order Wednesday finding that Concerned Citizens had shown that Murphy Oil repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act and that, “unless some action is taken to prevent the illegal conduct, there is a real threat that such violations will continue to occur.”

Murphy Oil USA Inc. was found liable for 21 violations of the Clean Air Act. These violations occurred during preventable upsets and resulted in tons of toxic air releases into the Chalmette and Meraux neighborhoods of southeast Louisiana.

The lawsuit, initially filed in November 2008, alleges Murphy Oil’s Meraux refinery violated the Clean Air Act over 130 times since October 2003 by releasing tons of sulfur dioxide and other harmful pollutants, including hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds, in amounts that exceed their air quality permit limits.

The neighborhood association filed the lawsuit to protect residents in St. Bernard Parish from the frequent and repeated air violations at the Meraux refinery.

For decades, Meraux residents and residents in the neighboring community of Chalmette have complained of continuous emissions, noise, odor, heat, dust and flare releases from petrochemical plants in their area, located about five miles southeast of New Orleans.

The federal Clean Air Act grants citizens independent authority to enforce legal standards to protect their own health and welfare and to encourage government agencies to enforce the law more vigorously.

Both parties are working towards an amicable agreement to settle the remaining disputed violations.

Concerned Citizens says neighborhood residents “look forward to a commitment from Murphy Oil to make the necessary improvements at its Meraux refinery – improvements which include protecting what little good air quality is left in the neighborhoods which surround the facility.”

Residents believe Murphy Oil’s Louisiana refinery has been operating in violation of the Clean Air Act partly due to Murphy’s own failure to invest in appropriate pollution controls and preventative maintenance.

Those are the types of improvements the community expects to see in the future, said Concerned Citizens, “a commitment from Murphy Oil to the residents of St. Bernard Parish that will result in an immediate and significant improvement for health, safety and quality of life.”

Headquartered in El Dorado, Arkansas, Murphy Oil USA’s refineries are in Meraux, Louisiana, and Superior, Wisconsin.

A division of MOUSA, Murphy USA Marketing Co., operates retail gasoline stations under the Murphy USA® brand across 20 states. These are high-volume, low-cost retail gasoline stations, primarily in the parking areas of Wal-Mart Supercenters.

MOUSA also operates a network of 12 company-owned terminals that, along with numerous third-party terminals, supply fuel to retail and branded wholesale stations in 23 states.

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