Total Petrochemicals USA, Inc., based here in Houston, agreed this week to come clean on a rather big problem that was three and a half years in the making.
From a Houston point of view, it could have been worse, as the problem was over at Total's Port Arthur facility, sparing us from a long list of violations in the way of excessive air pollution, improper maintenance, improper notification and inadequate record-keeping.
Moreover, since the corporate overseers at Total USA are located way over in Brussels, the Belgian suits may not even know about this yet. But they're bound to notice when the $749,910 penalty assessed by the Texas Commission on Environment Quality passes through the accounting department.
What do you have to do to get hit with a $749,910 fine?
Well, a lot can go wrong in three and a half years.
The state lists 73 individual violations -- an unusually long list as these things go -- that went on from 2003 to 2007, when seemingly anything that could go wrong did.
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But besides releasing excessive amounts of volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and other substances, which is par for the course around here, the violation that caught our eye was Total Petrochemical's failure to submit records for 24 emission events.
How does that happen? After all, Total SA is the world's fourth-largest integrated petroleum company and would seemingly know the ropes.
Evidently, the answer lies in a poorly trained work force, as Total USA has told Texas regulators it will give "supplemental training" to its personnel.
Additionally, the company says it fixed all sorts of other things that went wrong from 2003 through 2007, but rest assured, we'll be hearing from them again since four additional enforcement actions are pending against Total for its slipshod Port Arthur plant.