The state of Texas accused BP of putting profits before environmental safety and sued the British energy giant on August 9 for the mass release of pollutants after a fire at its troubled Texas City refinery.
The lawsuit comes as BP works to finally kill a runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico responsible for one of the world's worst ever oil spills.
It is the second time in as many years that Texas has sued BP for air pollution violations at the refinery where 15 workers were killed in a 2005 explosion.
BP has already faced record federal fines related to that incident, but the case filed on August 9 by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott argues that BP has not learned its lesson.
BP is accused of illegally emitting approximately 500,000 pounds of harmful air pollutants over the course of 40 days earlier this year. The pollutants were released after a compressor caught fire on April 6. State regulators investigating the incident determined that the fire could have been prevented with proper maintenance. BP also could have avoided releasing the pollutants by idling the two units associated with the compressor until repairs were complete. Instead, they were restarted after the fire "so as not to reduce productivity," Abbott wrote in a nine page petition.
"BP made very little attempt to minimize the emission of air contaminants caused by its actions, once again prioritizing profits over environmental compliance," Abbott wrote.
Abbott accused BP of engaging in a "pattern of unnecessary and unlawful" emissions from the refinery due to "poor operation and maintenance."
State officials have entered 15 enforcement orders against BP for violations related to at least 39 excessive emission events at the refinery between 2000 and 2007, he noted.
"In addition to a history of repeated violations of the law related to unauthorized air emissions, many of these orders show a pattern of failure to properly report Emissions Events," Abbott wrote.
Seven of the 72 violations cited in the lawsuit the state filed against BP last year relate to the unit involved in this case.
The Texas City facility is BP's largest refinery and has a feed capacity of approximately 460,000 barrels of crude oil per day. It processes a wide range of petroleum products, including gasoline, heavy fuel oil and sulfuric acid.
Along with another BP facility in Toledo, Ohio the refinery accounts for 97% of all flagrant violations found in the U.S. refining industry by inspectors over the past three years, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Most of BP's 862 citations were classified as "egregious willful" by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the nonprofit investigative journalism group said in a report released in May.
Abbott is seeking civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day of each violation of state air quality laws, as well as attorneys fees and investigative costs.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010