The company acknowledged in a statement that Wednesday’s “incident resulted in a release of oil droplets which traveled directly west,” affecting the neighborhood of Enfield Green, an affluent, gated community, “as well as some industrial sites.”
“In response to today’s incident, Limetree Bay has decided to temporarily suspend production activities until further notice,” it added.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan tweeted Wednesday night, “The repeated incidents at the refinery are unacceptable. EPA has a team on St. Croix and is committed to taking all necessary action to ensure people’s health and safety is protected.”
The plant, which received approval to operate under the Trump administration, has come under close scrutiny since President Biden came into office. In March, the EPA revoked one of the permits the last administration granted the refinery just before Trump stepped down, and it is now investigating whether it poses “an imminent risk to people’s health.”
The refinery has experienced multiple accidents over the past three months that have sickened local residents and forced schools, as well as local government offices, to close. The fire occurred at the same unit that caused the Feb. 4 accident, which contaminated dozens of open cisterns — from which many residents get water they use to drink, cook and bathe — and coated more than 200 cars as well as rooftops and gardens.
Although the refinery ranks as one of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ largest private employers and sources of tax revenue, many on St. Croix have begun to question its impact on their health.
The company warned residents in the affected community Wednesday “to disconnect downspouts to cisterns if accessible” and not drink the water. It promised to deliver bottled water to those homes.
U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) called the latest incident “totally unacceptable” in a statement, but expressed hope that the plant will reopen after making improvements.
“Lieutenant Governor Roach and I both have been in contact with the executive team at Limetree Bay and have expressed our concern and frustration with the recent releases that have threatened the health and safety of the residents downwind of the refinery and urged Limetree to step up its efforts to guarantee the safety of its employees and the residents downwind from the refinery," Bryan said. "It is my sincere hope that they can rectify whatever the issues are and resume operations in a manner that protects the health and well-being of its employees and the residents of our community.”
Jennifer Valiulis, who directs the St. Croix Environmental Association, said in an email that the time had come for officials to take stronger action against the plant.
“Lately we are seeing incidents happening nearly daily with this refinery: Fires, flares, spills, noxious emissions, oil raining down into neighborhoods,” she said. “Each one of these events has impacted our community and disastrous ways — severe illness, loss of food, loss of drinking water. At some point, we need to say that enough is enough and demand accountability from Limetree.”