A plume of smoke from smokestacks at the Limetree Bay refinery fills the sky in 2020. Limetree has ceased purging gasses as the refinery’s fate is decided through the bankruptcy process.

The final phases of Limetree Bay refinery’s shutdown process have been suspended due to a lack of cash, and additional hydrocarbon purging is dependent on the outcome of the ongoing bankruptcy case, according to a new report filed in U.S. District Court.

The report is part of an ongoing civil complaint filed July 12 against Limetree Bay by the environmental enforcement section of the U.S. Justice Department, which is arguing on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency that the refinery’s operations have repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act.

The parties submitted a joint status report and motion to stay all deadlines on Sept. 10, and the court granted the stay and ordered the parties to submit a second joint report, which was filed Friday.

The petroleum process units at the refinery remain idled, while terminal operations at Limetree Bay Terminals are still in operation. Limetree Bay Refining, LLC is pursuing bankruptcy proceedings in the Southern District of Texas.

On Oct. 28, Limetree attorneys filed a notice of extension of milestones and bid procedures deadlines, which revised several deadlines. The auction date was set for Friday, the sale hearing was scheduled for Dec. 3. Dec. 10 is the deadline for the winning bidder to close the sale transaction, and Dec. 13 is the deadline for a back-up bidder to close a sale transaction, if applicable, according to the joint report.

The government and Limetree have agreed to a stipulation to keep the refinery idled.

Previously, the EPA and refinery had agreed to steps to purge remaining hydrocarbons from the facility. The plan included testing Flare 8, which was completed in July, and subsequently purging the system and injecting nitrogen “to prevent oxidation while the facility is idle.”

The refinery also hired an independent observer to ensure the purging adheres to EPA regulations The plan includes measures “to ensure that the purging process and any associated activities do not present an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health or welfare or the environment,” according to the report.

Subsequently, the refinery “received five sulfur dioxide and five hydrogen sulfide ambient air monitors in early October,” according to the report. One of the sulfur dioxide monitors was defective, and while “Limetree Bay works to obtain a replacement from the manufacturer, it has acquired a loaner that will be used until the replacement is received. The ambient air monitors have been installed and are now operational.”

The EPA has said those monitors were required by the facility’s permits and should have been in place when the refinery restarted operations in February, but company officials disagreed and said the facility was in compliance.

The refinery had previously shut down in 2012 after years of economic troubles were compounded by violations of the Clean Air Act. The brief but disastrous restart resulted in several environmental contamination incidents that left at least 1,200 nearby homes coated in oil particles and hundreds of refinery employees and contractors laid off.

According to the latest report, Limetree Bay’s work on a Phase 3 of the purge plan, which will require EPA approval, “has been placed on hold due to financial constraints.”

The third phase, when approved, will seek to remove ammonia derivatives and “other process chemicals from the refinery equipment.

— Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email