South Portland was notified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Maine Department of Environmental Protection about notices of violations issued to Sprague Energy in South Portland. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — Allegations continue to mount about oil storage companies fouling city air.

When residents last week discussed how they can hold Global Partners LLC accountable for violations of the Clean Air Act, they also learned about unresolved problems at Sprague Energy.

“I think we always knew there was more than Global that has a problem in this city,” said resident TJ Cragin, who attended the event July 18 at 80 Brickhill Ave. She was one of more than 50 people who showed up for a neighborhood meeting, organized by the environmental watchdog group Protect South Portland.

Neighbors of Global Partners LP discussed everything from health concerns to financial distress and fears about environmental damage linked to Global and its emission of volatile organic compounds from heated tanks that store asphalt and residual No. 6 fuel oil.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts-based petroleum storage company’s 10-tank facility has exceeded its VOC emissions cap for several years. The allegations were made public March 25, when the EPA announced a consent agreement with Global Partners.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection this week said Global violated air-quality standards by failing to submit a compliance test report by the agency’s deadline and for burning fuel in two boilers containing more sulfur than allowed under state law.

The testing, submitted a week after a July 5 deadline, was for a vapor combustion unit that incinerates emissions released when petroleum products are loaded from large storage tanks into tank trucks. The results were found to be in compliance with the facilities emissions license.

The second violation, from an April inspection, showed No. 6 heavy fuel oil that contained 1.6 percent sulfur, which is more than three times the 0.5 percent allowed under a 2018 statute that reduced the allowed limit from 2 percent.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, burning fossil fuels containing sulfur is a major source of sulfur dioxide gas, a breathing irritant. The DEP said it is in the process of drafting a consent decree to address the issue.

Under terms of the prior agreement announced March 25, the company, which denies the government’s allegations, must reduce emissions, pay a $40,000 fine and invest $150,000 in a program to replace or upgrade wood stoves in Cumberland County.

On June 10, the DEP placed six air quality monitors at locations in the city, City Manager Scott Morelli said. The devices will sample air quality in one 24-hour period each week over several months, which will be analyzed and tested for more than 50 types of air pollutants, with results to be presented at an Aug. 20 City Council meeting.

“I’m happy Global was finally caught with higher emissions, but I want to get stuff done,” resident Pamela White said at the meeting July 18. “I don’t want to have to close my windows anymore.”

While no direct action has been taken so far, residents and members of Protect South Portland discussed several propositions for addressing the issue in the future, suggesting installation of a monitoring system that could measure and identify VOC emissions along the perimeter of Global’s facility.

“It’s very disturbing to hear the news about Sprague also,” state Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, said at the Brickhill meeting. “We had nothing in place to notify us when air quality was bad. It’s clear parties involved resist strong, meaningful change.”

According to a June 7 announcement posted on the city website, South Portland was notified by the EPA and DEP about notices of violations issued to Sprague for alleged incidents at its South Portland facilities.

Based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Sprague stores asphalt and No. 6 heavy fuel oil at 59 Main St. and in Searsport.

The tanks, which are heated to keep the asphalt and heavy oil fluid, were tested by the EPA on July 28, 2011 and found to emit hazardous VOCs.

EPA notified Sprague about the alleged violations in April 2014 and again in December 2014, when it alleged five different physical and operational changes to the South Portland facility were undertaken without proper license amendments.

Eric Kennedy, director of the DEP’s Division of Licensing and Compliance in the Bureau of Air Quality, said a license amendment issued in 2015 satisfactorily addressed the operational and physical changes. But the company, which has been in operation since 1870, may be subject to civil penalties of $37,500 per day for each violation after March 15, 2004.

In a letter addressed to Mayor Claude Morgan on June 5, Sprague Vice President Burton Russell said his company “has been in an extensive and costly dialogue with EPA Region 1 for the past nine years” and is “hopeful” a resolution can be reached.

As of July 24, Morelli said the EPA has not filed a complaint against Sprague, nor has it reached a consent agreement with the company to resolve the matter. The state DEP, meanwhile, is not alleging any existing violations.

“It’s frustrating, because we don’t have much control in this situation right now,” Morelli said. “We’ve made efforts to apply for grants for monitoring in the past, and weren’t successful. It seems like people are coming together though, which is great. We’ll have to wait for the air monitoring test results to come through and go forward from there.”


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: