The troubled Limetree Bay oil refinery in St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands, has suspended operations after a malfunction sent oil raining onto a nearby neighborhood, the company said late Wednesday.
The Caribbean refinery has suffered repeated setbacks since its private-equity owners began overhauling the long-idled facility two years ago with a plan to process up to 210,000 barrels of oil per day.
Limetree Bay said it suffered an “upset in the refinery”, and urged residents living near the plant not to drink water from collected supplies. Residents living in the island generally collect rainwater in cisterns for consumption.
Residents were alerted of a fire at the plant by the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday.
The company said it plans to distribute water to those affected by the oil release, and added that the plant’s processing units will be brought to a “safe, stable condition”.
Flaring, or emergency burning of feedstocks, caused oil to release onto neighborhood areas. A malfunctioning coker unit caused the flaring, according to two people familiar with the matter. Cokers convert heavy oil for feedstocks to make motor fuels.
Earlier this year, noxious odors from the plant shut local schools and left residents sick, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate.
“Repeated incidents at the refinery are unacceptable,” Michael Regan, EPA administrator, said in a tweet on Wednesday. The agency “is committed to taking all necessary action to ensure people’s health and safety is protected.”
Last week, the EPA said if it determines that Limetree’s operations present an “imminent risk” to residents health, it would take appropriate action to safeguard the public.
EPA sent air monitors to the island last week to measure sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide emissions, though they are not functional as yet.