Refining Company, Managers Plead Guilty to Felony Clean Water Act Violations at Oklahoma Plant
Sinclair Tulsa Refining Co., a subsidiary of major oil and gasoline producer Sinclair Oil, has pleaded guilty to two felony counts of deliberately manipulating wastewater discharges at its Tulsa Refinery in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). In addition, two company managers, Harmon Connell and John Kapura, have each pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the CWA, related to the manipulation of discharges into waters of the United States.
Sinclair, and managers Kapura and Connell, admitted to knowingly manipulating the refinery processes, wastewater flows, and wastewater discharges to result in unrepresentative wastewater samplings during mandatory testing required under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. The manipulated samplings were intended to influence analytical testing results reported to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Between January 2000 and March 2004, the Sinclair refinery discharged an average of 1.1 million gallons of treated wastewater per day into the Arkansas River. Under the CWA, Sinclair was permitted to discharge treated wastewater into the Arkansas River, pursuant to certain limitations and conditions, which include scheduled monitoring and required sampling during weekdays. According to the information, on numerous occasions in 2002 and 2003, Sinclair directed employees to limit wastewater discharges with high concentrations of oil and grease to manipulate the result of required bio-testing. During monitoring periods, Sinclair, by way of its employees, reduced flow rates of wastewater discharges to the river, and diverted more heavily contaminated wastewater to holding impoundments, among other means of ensuring that they had passed the tests.
According to the EPA, Sinclair had the capability to comply with environmental regulations, but chose to violate federal law to save money. The agency says that the defendants viewed repeated violations as nothing more than “doing business.” The EPA hopes the case sends a clear message that environmental misconduct will not be tolerated and that such violators of environmental law will be pursued.
Under the agreement, Sinclair has agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $5 million and a community service payment of $500,000 to be paid into an environmental fund, to be identified at a later date. Connell and Kapura each face a maximum penalty of three years in prison, up to a term of one year of supervised release, and a penalty to be determined by the court. Sentencing is scheduled for April 2, 2007.
The case was jointly investigated by the EPA and the Oklahoma attorney general’s office as part of the Oklahoma Environmental Crimes Task Force. It is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Division.