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Sinclair Oil Forced To Pay Fine For Cheating On Environmental Protection Tests

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A Tulsa refinery is slapped with a 5.5-million fine for violating the Clean Water Act. Sinclair Oil Company pled guilty to deliberately changing the amount of waste-water released into the Arkansas River to pass environmental tests.

News on 6 reporter Ashli Sims explains why the government says Sinclair tried to cheat the system.

Sinclair Oil has run a Tulsa refinery along the banks of the Arkansas River for more than 20 years. Now the company has pled guilty to violating the laws put in place to protect the river.

Between 2000 and 2004, the Sinclair refinery released an average of one million gallons of treated wastewater into the Arkansas River everyday. The Environmental Protection Agency allowed the company to do that, but the agency required regular tests and samples to monitor pollutants.

The EPA says Sinclair was manipulating those tests to ensure they passed. Court documents show in 2002 and 2003, just before testing dates Sinclair employees were ordered to limit the release of waste water with high amounts of oil and grease. The government says the goal was to change the results of biotests.

Sinclair was also accused of diverting more heavily contaminated waste water to holding pools, during testing periods. An EPA representative said in a written statement Sinclair chose to violate the law to save money.

Sinclair and two of its employees pled guilty to the violations and the company faces a $5.5-million fine. In a faxed statement, the company “regrets the violations and measures are in place to prevent any repeat occurrence.” The statement goes on to say the oil company has invested $180-million in environmental projects at the refinery. And Sinclair won an award in 2004 for protecting Tulsa’s air quality.

Half a million dollars from that fine will go directly to Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality. The agency has already earmarked the money to help small communities with waste water issues.

The two managers prosecuted in this case also pled guilty. They could face up to three years in prison, with sentencing scheduled for April.
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