By Patricia Borns
November 18, 2021
St. Croix Energy emerged the winner in the auction of St. Croix’s bankrupt Limetree Bay Refinery on Thursday, raising the likelihood that the failed fossil fuel refinery will be resurrected and operated again.
If the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approves St. Croix Energy’s restart proposal, it will be the second time in the refinery’s 60-year history that it has restarted operations out of bankruptcy, without a requirement to modernize its environmental control technology to 21st Century standards. In a letter to Limetree’s bidders, the EPA implied it may enforce this requirement of idled facilities, which Limetree was exempted from under the Trump administration.
The group of undisclosed partners, who reportedly reside in the Virgin Islands, inherits several environmental issues: from completing the purging of toxins from the refinery lines, to making whole the St. Croix refinery neighbors whose cisterns were contaminated by the refinery’s oil sprays, to righting OSHA violations, to dealing with possible Clean Water Act violations caused by new contamination discovered by the EPA in the vicinity of the refinery.
“Emerging as the top bidder for the LBR asset is a good thing, however SCE continues to remain focused and steadfast on accomplishing the other milestones necessary for our company and the U.S Virgin Islands community to see a safe and environmentally conscious. restart of the LBR facility,” the group’s communications director, Ashley Scotland said in a prepared statement.
“SCE remains committed to working with the local and statutory environmental regulatory bodies, including the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in creating a restart plan that will address safety and environmental concerns, while allowing our company the opportunity to operate and provide economic growth opportunities for all Virgin Islanders. The St. Croix Energy group looks forward to more and new engagement with the local community in the coming weeks, as we begin to roll out our senior leadership team and expound on our new business plan for the facility,” Scotland said.
St. Croix Energy’s restart plan is of especial concern to grassroots environmental groups who surveyed hundreds of St. Croix residents in the wake of the May 12 refinery flare upset that showered oil on thousands of downwind homes.
“It is unfortunate that a bankruptcy court in Houston can override the good sense of Crucians that now is the time to build a more sustainable economy,” Benning College Professor David Bond, a survey organizer, responded to the auction’s outcome. “The economic promise of this refinery continues to rest on downplaying, deferring, and dodging the tremendous environmental harm oil refining has inflicted on the people of St. Croix. Cleaning up that mess must be prioritized before the refinery is allowed to restart.”
The EPA reassured that safety will be a priority.
“EPA would work, along with our regulatory partners in the USVI, to ensure that any entity that intends to operate the facility does so in compliance with environmental law,” spokesman John Senn wrote.
Limetree will work with St. Croix Energy under a transitional services agreement in the coming months while a restart plan is being negotiated and approved.