Energy Company Settles Claims of Unlawful Operation of Oil Terminals in Quincy and Everett Without Required Air Permits

A New Hampshire-based energy company, Sprague Resources LP, has agreed to obtain air permits under federal and state clean air laws and to pay a total of $350,000 to settle claims that the company’s petroleum-product terminals in Quincy and Everett, as well as similar facilities in New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island, lack required air permits for their emissions of smog-causing pollution, Attorney General Maura Healey announced.

The proposed consent decree, subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is the culmination of a joint investigation and enforcement effort by AG Healey’s Office, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

“In the midst of a pandemic, it is more important than ever that industrial facilities emitting dangerous air pollutants comply with laws that protect the health of our residents —especially those in environmental justice communities disparately impacted by COVID-19,” AG Healey said. “Today’s settlement will help protect our clean air and reduce health risks within our most vulnerable communities, which are a top priority during this crisis.” 

Under the terms of the settlement, Sprague will apply to MassDEP for permits for its Quincy and Everett facilities that will reduce VOC emissions by limiting the amount of heavy fuel oil and asphalt the company can pass through the facilities and the number of tanks that can store heavy fuel oil and asphalt at any one time. The company also is committing to obtain an air permit before using an out-of-service heated tank at Sprague’s New Bedford facility. In addition, Sprague will operate and maintain the existing carbon bed system on its heavy fuel oil tank at its Quincy facility to address local air impacts. Similar terms will apply at other Sprague facilities in New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island.

Sprague has also agreed to pay a total of $350,000 in civil penalties, including $145,000 to the Commonwealth.

“Sprague is required to obtain air quality permits to regulate its operations, consistent with other petroleum and asphalt storage facilities in Massachusetts,” said Eric Worrall, Director of MassDEP’s Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington. “This settlement will assist Massachusetts’ efforts to further reduce ozone and improve air quality in the Commonwealth and throughout New England.”

The proposed settlement resolves claims that Sprague violated the federal Clean Air Act and Massachusetts’s state Clean Air Act and air regulations at the company’s petroleum terminal facilities, which store and distribute large volumes of oil, asphalt, and other fossil fuel products. As alleged in the complaint filed with the settlement, Sprague has for years failed to obtain required air permits for those facilities’ large heated oil and asphalt tanks, which emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. EPA identified these violations in formal notices to Sprague in 2015 and 2017, and the AG’s Office and MassDEP participated in subsequent cooperative negotiations with the company and the federal government regarding resolution of the matter.

Under federal and state law, facilities that emit certain quantities of VOCs must obtain air permits controlling those emissions, including older facilities like Sprague’s that are modified or restarted. VOCs include a variety of chemicals that may produce adverse health effects such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney, and the central nervous system.

Ground-level ozone, also known as smog, forms when VOCs and other pollutants emitted from industrial facilities, like Sprague’s terminals and other sources like motor vehicles, react in the air under suitable conditions. Breathing ozone formed from VOCs can trigger a variety of serious health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and anyone with lung diseases such as asthma, including chest tightness, lung tissue damage, and aggravation of emphysema, heart disease, and bronchitis. Ozone pollution is also harmful to vegetation and crops by making plants more susceptible to disease and insects.

AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division works with its agency partners to prioritize enforcement cases where the violations have occurred in environmental justice communities. Earlier this month, the AG’s Office released a brief on the environmental factors, including elevated exposure to air pollution, that compound the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color in Massachusetts and the steps the state should take to address the longstanding impact of environmental injustice on families.

This case is being handled for the Commonwealth by Assistant Attorney General and Chief Christophe Courchesne of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, with assistance from Jeanne Argento, Senior Regional Counsel, Edward Braczyk, Regional Permit Chief, and former Deputy Regional Director Susan Ruch in MassDEP’s Northeast Regional Office.

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