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EPA Orders Shutdown Of St. Croix Refinery After Oil "Rains Down" On The Island

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by Tyler Durden
Saturday, May 29, 2021 - 08:00 PM

It was literally raining oil in St. Croix a couple weeks ago - and not in the good "newly discovered oil"-type way most people know from movies and TV.

The oil falling from the sky was the result of a "flare incident" that took place Limetree Bay refinery; the incident shot oil up into the sky and it was carried west by the wind before raining down on parts of the island, according to CNN

As a result of the incident, the US Environmental Protection Agency ordered an emergency, 60-day shutdown of the plant, citing an "imminent risk" to public health, the report says. The incident sent sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into the air. 58 year old resident Dyline Thomas said: "The smell was so strong, like sulfur, like rotten eggs."

As a result of the "incident", she said she had an upset stomach, running nose and sore throat. 

The release of oil has the island reconsidering whether or not its economic future is worth keeping the refinery on the island. While it has provided jobs and revenue for the island's battered economy, residents are starting to question whether the "price is too high". 

Jennifer Valiulis, the executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, told CNN: "We are at a crossroads. We have an opportunity to examine what we want our economy to look like, what we want St. Croix to be in a world that's moving away from fossil fuels as its primary energy source."

The island had its first refinery - responsible for helping its citizens raise their quality of life - open in 1966, managed by Hess. The same petroleum refinery paid $5.3 million in fines in 2011 for environmental violations. It then filed for bankruptcy and shut down before being re-opened via a grant issued by the Trump administration. It produces about 200,000 barrels of oil per day. 

Virginia Clairmont, who runs a nonprofit working to revitalize the town of Frederiksted on the island's western end, has spoken out about the refinery: "If you talk about it, you'll be attacked for trying to deprive other people of jobs."

Covid-19 also struck a blow to the island, crippling its cruise industry just years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria "devastated" the island. 

The restart of the plant created 400 full time jobs and will generate about $7 million in annual tax revenue. 

Local senator Nellie Rivera-O'Reilly pushed for the re-opening of the plant. She told CNN: "As a business owner now, I see the benefits of the refinery, or any employer of that magnitude, remaining viable on the island of St. Croix." 

But the EPA received "hundreds of calls and emails" complaining about the plant since it reopened. Tysha Henry, who grew up on St. Croix, said smells from the plant woke her up at night: "It felt like I was going to asphyxiate or something. I will not be going back home as long as this smell is there," 

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said of the decision to shut down the plant: "This already overburdened community has suffered through at least four recent incidents that have occurred at the facility, and each had an immediate and significant health impact on people and their property."

Speaking about the spill, Rivera-O'Reilly concluded: "These things happen in these types of industries. The thing to do is to make sure we learn and put in place measures to prevent this from happening."

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