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Flint Hills Resources, Port Arthur Clean Air Act Settlement

(Washington, DC – March 20, 2014) The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that Flint Hills Resources (FHR) of Port Arthur has agreed to implement innovative technologies to control harmful air pollution from industrial flares and leaking equipment at the company’s chemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas. This settlement is part of EPA’s national effort to advance environmental justice by protecting communities such as Port Arthur that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution. The company is also required to pay a $350,000 penalty for Clean Air Act violations.

Overview of Company and Location of Facility

The facility that is the subject of this settlement is a chemical plant located in the Port Arthur, Texas.  Flint Hills Resources (FHR) is the entity that owns and operates the chemical plant. FHR is a privately‑held company that has owned and operated the Facility since November 2007.  FHR is one of the many companies ultimately owned by Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries.  The Facility was owned by Huntsman Chemical prior to FHR’s purchase.

The Facility has the capacity to produce nearly 1.4 billion pounds per year of ethylene and 700 million pounds per year of propylene (both of which are olefins).  Ethylene and propylene are the basic chemical building blocks used to manufacture a variety of products such as medical devices, automotive parts and appliance components. 

Benzene and 1,3-butadiene are formed as co-products during the production of ethylene and propylene.  Benzene and 1,3-butadiene, both hazardous air pollutants, are emitted from the site during the production process. Benzene is used as a feedstock in the production of cyclohexane on-site and 1,3-butadiene is sold as a component in a mixed hydrocarbon stream. 

The Facility employs approximately 250 people and operates 24 hours a day 365 days per year. 

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The complaint alleges violations of Clean Air Act requirements at FHR’s three steam‑assisted flares that resulted in excess emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and various "HAPs" including benzene. The complaint allegations include violations of:

  • New Source Review/Prevention of Significant Deterioration (NSR/PSD) and Minor New Source Review, 40 C.F.R. Parts 51 and 52
  • New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), 40 C.F.R. Part 60, Subparts A and VV
  • National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), 40 C.F.R. Part 61, Subparts A and V
  • National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), 40 C.F.R. Part 63, Subparts A, H, and UU, G
  • Title V and the Title V permits at FHR’s facilities
  • Texas State Implementation Plan (SIP) requirements

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Injunctive Relief

The consent decree requires the following actions to resolve the CAA claims:

Flare Minimization/Caps/Flare Gas Recovery System (FGRS) Sizing

  • Submit and implement a waste gas minimization plan which is a very detailed plan for reducing waste gas to flares.  Update the plan on a yearly basis.  Plan is enforceable.
  • Undertake a root cause analysis and implement corrective action for “Reportable Flaring Incidents” (i.e., 500,000 standard cubic feet per day (“scfd”) waste gas flow).
  • Pursuant to the settlement FHR has installed a FGRS with a maximum capacity to recover 4.5 million scfd of process gas.
  • The FGRS will be required to be available for operation a high percentage of time.

Flare Efficiency

  • Comply with current regulatory standards.
  • Install and operate the following monitoring systems and equipment:  Vent Gas Flow Meter; Steam Flow Meter; Steam Control Equipment; Gas Chromatograph or a Net Heating Value Analyzer; and a Meteorological Station.
  • Automate the control of Supplemental Gas (i.e. gas used to increase the net heating value of the gas being flared) and steam addition in order to achieve high combustion efficiency.
  • Comply with the following limits:
    • A minimum heating value in the gas in the combustion zone just above the flare tip, which is called the “net heating value in the combustion zone gas” or “NHVcz.” 
    • Steam/Vent Gas ratio “S/VG” ≤ 4.0.
    • A prohibition on discontinuous wake dominated flow (which is designed to limit the effect of wind on combustion efficiency).
    • 98% Combustion Efficiency.

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Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR)

  • Comply with current regulatory standards.
  • Enhanced LDAR Program.
    • Install of low-emissions valve technology.
    • Monitor valves, connectors, pumps, and agitators more frequently.
    • Monitor open-end lines (“OELs”) even though OELs are not required to be monitored under current regulations.
    • Repair valves, connectors, pumps, and agitators when they are leaking at lower levels than the regulations specify and repairing OELs even though the regulations do not call for this.
    • Conduct enhanced training.
    • Undertake quality assurance/quality control measures.
    • Retain an outside auditor to do an annual LDAR audit.
    • Take corrective actions based on audit results.    

Benzene Waste Operations NESHAP (“BWON”)

  • Third‑party audit of the Facility’s BWON compliance.
  • Install control devices in the form of dual carbon canisters (which are more stringent than the regulations require).
  • Audit laboratories that do benzene analyses.
  • Train employees who take benzene samples.
  • Perform periodic benzene sampling as verification that control measures are effective.
  • Implement corrective action when sampling identifies irregularities. 

Fence Line Monitoring

  • FHR will continue to operate previously existing fence line monitors and to investigate and implement corrective action when these monitors show concentrations of benzene and 1,3‑butadiene (the two hazardous air pollutants generated by the Facility) above a certain threshold amount.

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Environmental Mitigation Projects

FHR will implement two mitigation projects. FHR will: (1) spend $2 million to implement and complete the retrofitting, repowering, replacing, and/or retiring of diesel vehicles owned and operated by the City of Port Arthur; and (2) spend $350,000 to implement and complete a project to purchase and install environmentally beneficial technologies to reduce energy demand in low income homes.

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Pollutant Reductions

When fully implemented, the new controls and requirements under the Consent Decree are estimated to reduce emissions by approximately 1,900 tons per year (tpy) of the following pollutants, as follows:

  • VOCs by approximately 1,605 tpy
  • Hazardous Air Pollutants by approximately 255 tpy
  • Nitrogen Oxides (“NOx”) by approximately 20 tpy

In addition, the controls required by the Consent Decree will result in a reduction of GHGs by approximately 69,550 tpy (as carbon dioxide equivalents, or CO2e).

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Health and Environmental Effects

  • Nitrogen Oxides – Nitrogen oxides can cause ground-level ozone, acid rain, particulate matter, global warming, water quality deterioration, and visual impairment. Nitrogen oxides play a major role, with volatile organic chemicals, in the atmospheric reactions that produce ozone.  Children, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are susceptible to adverse effects such as damage to lung tissue and reduction in lung function.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds - VOCs, along with NOx, play a major role in the atmospheric reactions that produce ozone, which is the primary constituent of smog.  People with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are active can be affected when ozone levels are unhealthy. Ground-level ozone exposure is linked to a variety of short-term health problems, including lung irritation and difficulty breathing, as well as long-term problems, such as permanent lung damage from repeated exposure, aggravated asthma, reduced lung capacity, and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
  • Benzene - Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation, and, at high levels, unconsciousness.  Chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure has caused various disorders in the blood, including reduced numbers of red blood cells and anemia in occupational settings.  Reproductive effects have been reported for women exposed by inhalation to high levels, and adverse effects on the developing fetus have been observed in animal tests.  Increased incidences of leukemia have been observed in humans occupationally exposed to benzene.  EPA has classified benzene as a Group A human carcinogen.
  • Greenhouse Gases – The release of GHGs into the atmosphere traps heat.  The continued release of GHGs at or above the current rate will increase average temperatures around the globe.  Increases in global temperatures will most likely change our planet’s climate in ways that will have significant long-term effects on people and the environment.

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Civil Penalty

FHR will pay a civil penalty of $350,000.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement is lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The consent decree will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.  Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contact:

Robert Parrish, Attorney
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2242A) 
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. 
Washington, DC 20460-0001 
(202) 564-6946

Patrick W. Foley, Senior Environmental Engineer 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2242A) 
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. 
Washington, DC 20460-0001 
(202) 564-7978

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