Crowley Fuels

Fuel tanks sit a Crowley Fuels’ Ketchikan facility on Thursday. At this facility the EPA recorded 35 violations. Staff photo by Sam Stockbridge

Crowley Fuels agreed to pay more than $1.3 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month after agency officials found that the company over the past six years had accrued more than 90 violations of federal environmental regulations across Alaska — including 35 violations at its largest Ketchikan site located at 900 Stedman St.

The bulk of the violations — 87 in all — occurred at Crowley's fuel terminal in Juneau and its Stedman site in Ketchikan. EPA officials also penalized the company for violations at its gas stations near the Ketchikan airport ferry parking lot, near mile 12 of North Tongass Highway and at two other fueling locations in Douglas and Palmer.

Concluding an investigation that began in February of 2019, the EPA found that Crowley did not install vapor emissions controls on gasoline storage tanks at its Juneau terminal, in violation of the Clean Air Act, and further found that the company did not report the release of toxic fuel compounds at sites in Ketchikan and Juneau, in violation of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, according to the company's consent agreement with the EPA. The company also was years late in notifying the EPA of its operations in Juneau, Douglas, Palmer and Ketchikan.

All of Crowley's violations have been resolved, according to the EPA press release announcing the settlement.

Juneau vapor control violations

Crowley's failure to install vapor emissions controls at its Juneau location violated provisions in the Clean Air Act that require companies to limit the release of fuel compounds into the air, according to the agreement.

The EPA requires that gasoline dispensing facilities limit the release of vapors from volatile organic compounds — such as gasoline — because many chemicals common in those compounds are toxic and can be dangerous when released into the atmosphere. (Benzene, for example, is a known carcinogen, and toluene can damage the body's central nervous system. Both are common compounds in gasoline.)

Gasoline naturally evaporates, even when stored in fuel tanks underground or in cars or boats. But without control measures in place, VOC vapors can escape from storage, polluting the atmosphere and potentially harming people and the surrounding environment.

In the case of gasoline, the EPA has regulations in place to limit the release of vapors when transporting and storing gasoline.

Crowley neglected to install floating vapor-reducing roofs on its gasoline tanks in Juneau by the beginning of 2015 and had not installed those "control devices" (as they are classified by the EPA) when the consent agreement was written, according to the agreement. In failing to install those roofs, the EPA estimated that the Juneau location released 110,000 pounds of excess VOC vapors in the 2018 calendar year alone, according to EPA spokesman Bill Dunbar. (2018 is the last year for which the EPA had complete emission data for the facility, Dunbar explained on Tuesday.)

Dunbar said Crowley officials had assessed the cost of installing the floating roofs to be more than $1 million.

In addition to that issue, the Juneau facility did not have a vapor collection system installed at its Juneau facility's fuel truck loading rack by Sep. 27, 2019, and had not installed one when the consent agreement was written, according to the agreement.

Distinct from vapor control devices, which limit vapor buildup within storage tanks, vapor collection systems limit the escape of fuel vapors during transfers to and from fuel storage tanks. Excess fuel vapors can be condensed and reintroduced to the fuel storage system or burned off.

The absence of a vapor collection system at Crowley's fuel truck loading rack in Juneau in turn violated other EPA rules that govern when and how operators make sure the vapor collection system is actually being used. The company failed to ensure that the Juneau rack loaded fuel only into "vapor-tight gasoline tank trucks;" it failed to "act to assure" that fuel at the Juneau rack was only transferred to and from tankers with compatible vapor collection equipment; it failed to operate vapor collection and liquid loading equipment that would prevent fuel delivery tanks from handling excess pressure; and it failed to conduct monthly inspections of the vapor collection systems, according to the consent agreement.

In total, without those two pieces of pollutant reduction installed at Juneau, Crowley racked up 20 counts of rule violations.

On Sep. 16, the EPA issued an administrative compliance order on consent requiring Crowley to either install the required air pollution control equipment at its Juneau facility or to convert the terminal to diesel-only service. (Diesel is not considered a volatile organic compound by the EPA, and therefore no VOC vapor controls are required for it.)

Dunbar said Crowley had indicated to the EPA that it plans to switch to diesel-only service at its Juneau facility.

In an email to the Daily News on Wednesday, David DeCamp, the director of corporate communications for Crowley, confirmed that the Juneau facility has not dispensed gasoline since December, though he added that the company still "[serves] and [supplies] gasoline customers using an alternative storage facility that complies with all applicable regulations and best practices."

Toxic Release Inventory violations

Crowley incurred most of the rest of its violations for processing toxic chemicals at its Juneau facility and Stedman Street location without filing necessary reports with the EPA.

The EPA explained in its December press release how and why it requires entities to report those chemical releases.

"Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, facilities that use certain toxic chemicals above specified thresholds must file annual reports of their chemical releases and transfers with EPA and their approximate state agency. The information collected by EPA from industrial and federal facilities using these chemicals serves as the basis of the Toxics Release Inventory, a national database that can be reviewed by communities, government and industry," the release explained. "Because Crowley's TRI forms were not submitted in a timely manner, the information for these chemicals was not available to the public."

Dunbar noted in a Wedneday phone interview that EPCRA was passed in response to the 1984 Bhopal gas leak disaster in India, in which more than half a million people were exposed to a highly toxic gas that leaked from a local pesticide plant.

With that in mind, Dunbar said, EPCRA also requires businesses to report those excess toxic chemical levels to local emergency authorities in case of a disaster — "so that if anything were to happen, that the first responders in the community can plan for an emergency if release happens.

"Really, it's critical for communities to know what's in their midst and to be able to plan for a release," Dunbar added.

The EPA found that between 2014 and 2018, Crowley's Ketchikan and Juneau facilities processed sufficient amounts of benzene, cyclohexane, ethylbenzene, naphthalene, toluene, xylene, 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene, n-Hexane and lead compounds to compel it to report those releases to the EPA. Crowley did not.

The consent order doesn't disclose the amounts of those compounds processed at either site.

In a phone interview Thursday, Dunbar cautioned that when a facility is required to fill out a chemical release report, it doesn't necessarily mean the facility released a toxic chemical or that it released enough of a chemical to pose a risk to the community.

Crowley's 65 Toxic Release Inventory filing violations accounted for $887,365 of its settlement cost with the EPA.

The agency's December press release stated that Crowley submitted and certified all outstanding toxic release inventory reports as part of the consent agreement.

EPA notification violations

In addition to Crowley's Clean Air Act and toxic report inventory violations, the EPA faulted the company for tardily submitting notices to the agency for facilities in Juneau, Douglas, Palmer, and all three of its facilities in Ketchikan, including the Crowley gas station near the airport ferry terminal and the station near mile 12 of North Tongass Highway. Crowley acquired all three gasoline dispensing facilities on the island in 2013.

Provisions established by the Clean Air Act mandate that some companies notify the EPA of aspects of their operations.

Until late June of 2017, Crowley had failed to submit the proper notices for its Juneau facility, which was due in March of 2014, and its three Ketchikan locations, which were due in 2013, 2014 and early 2017 for the Stedman Street facility, North Tongass station and airport ferry station, respectively.

Crowley also had outstanding notifications for facilities in Douglas and Palmer until June of 2020. The Palmer notification was due by the end of 2009; the Douglas notification was due by the end of 2019.

The company's Clean Air Act violations — its 20 vapor control violations in Juneau and the late notifications just described — constituted the remaining $450,000 of its settlement with the EPA.

Crowley response

In a prepared statement sent to the Daily News on Wednesday, DeCamp maintained a positive outlook.

"First and foremost, we value our work and relationships in every community we serve, and our focus is to always operate in a safe and environmentally sound way. Integrity is one of our core values, and we strive to correct and improve whenever we can," DeCamp wrote. "Crowley Fuels safely and dependably serves more than 280 communities in Alaska, and we value our customers’ trust in us."

In an email sent to the Daily News last week, he said the company took the appropriate actions in response to the violations.

"Crowley Fuels is committed to operating safely and protecting the environment in every community we serve," he wrote in the Dec. 30 email. "While the EPA action results from our misinterpretation of certain regulations, we have taken action to remedy those issues and continue operating in an environmentally safe manner. As the EPA stated, we immediately took corrective actions and resolved all outstanding issues. Our teams continue to work every day to support a safe and healthy environment."

Asked in an email on Wednesday to clarify the meaning of "misinterpretation of certain regulations," DeCamp declined to elaborate.

The full text of the EPA's consent order can be found on the EPA website at bit.ly/3bj1HF3.