14. ENVIRONMENTAL, HEALTH AND SAFETY MATTERS
We are subject to extensive federal, state, local and international laws, regulations, rules and ordinances relating to safety, pollution, protection of the environment and the generation, storage, handling, transportation, treatment, disposal and remediation of hazardous substances and waste materials. In the ordinary course of business, we are subject to frequent environmental inspections and monitoring and occasional investigations by governmental enforcement authorities. In addition, our production facilities require operating permits that are subject to renewal, modification and, in certain circumstances, revocation. Actual or alleged violations of safety laws, environmental laws or permit requirements could result in restrictions or prohibitions on plant operations, substantial civil or criminal sanctions, as well as, under some environmental laws, the assessment of strict liability and/or joint and several liability. Moreover, changes in environmental regulations could inhibit or interrupt our operations, or require us to modify our facilities or operations. Accordingly, environmental or regulatory matters may cause us to incur significant unanticipated losses, costs or liabilities.
ENVIRONMENTAL, HEALTH AND SAFETY SYSTEMS
We are committed to achieving and maintaining compliance with all applicable environmental, health and safety ("EHS") legal requirements, and we have developed policies and management systems that are intended to identify the multitude of EHS legal requirements applicable to our operations, enhance compliance with applicable legal requirements, ensure the safety of our employees, contractors, community neighbors and customers and minimize the production and emission of wastes and other pollutants. Although EHS legal requirements are constantly changing and are frequently difficult to comply with, these EHS management systems are designed to assist us in our compliance goals while also fostering efficiency and improvement and minimizing overall risk to us.
EHS CAPITAL EXPENDITURES
We may incur future costs for capital improvements and general compliance under EHS laws, including costs to acquire, maintain and repair pollution control equipment. For the nine months ended September 30, 2011 and 2010 our capital expenditures for EHS matters totaled $55 million and $47 million, respectively. Because capital expenditures for these matters are subject to evolving regulatory requirements and depend, in part, on the timing, promulgation and enforcement of specific requirements, our capital expenditures for EHS matters have varied significantly from year to year and we cannot provide assurance that our recent expenditures will be indicative of future amounts required under EHS laws.
We have incurred, and we may in the future incur, liability to investigate and clean up waste or contamination at our current or former facilities or facilities operated by third parties at which we may have disposed of waste or other materials. Similarly, we may incur costs for the cleanup of waste that was disposed of prior to the purchase of our businesses. Under some circumstances, the scope of our liability may extend to damages to natural resources.
Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("CERCLA") and similar state laws, a current or former owner or operator of real property may be liable for remediation costs regardless of whether the release or disposal of hazardous substances was in compliance with law at the time it occurred, and a current owner or operator may be liable regardless of whether it owned or operated the facility at the time of the release. Outside the U.S., analogous contaminated property laws, such as those in effect in France and Australia, can hold past owners and/or operators liable for remediation at former facilities. We have been notified by third parties of claims against us for cleanup liabilities at approximately 10 former facilities or third party sites, including, but not limited to, sites listed under CERCLA. Based on current information and past experiences at other CERCLA sites, we do not expect any of these third party claims to result in material liability to us.
One of these sites, the North Maybe Canyon Mine CERCLA site, includes an abandoned phosphorous mine near Soda Springs, Idaho believed to have been operated by one of our predecessor companies (El Paso Products Company). In 2004, the U.S. Forest Service notified us that we are a CERCLA Potentially Responsible Party (a "PRP") for the mine site involving selenium contaminated surface water. Under a 2004 administrative order, the current mine lessee, Nu-West Industries, Inc., began undertaking the investigation required for a CERCLA removal process. In 2008, the site was transitioned to the CERCLA remedial action process, which requires a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (an "RI/FS"). In 2009, the Forest Service notified the three PRPs (our Company, Nu-West and Wells Cargo) that it would undertake the RI/FS itself. On February 19, 2010, in conjunction with Wells Cargo, we agreed to jointly comply with a unilateral administrative order (a "UAO") to conduct an RI/FS of the entire West Ridge of the site, although we are alleged to have had only a limited historical presence in the investigation area. In March 2010, following the initiation of litigation by Nu-West, the Forest Service assumed Nu-West's original investigation obligations. On June 15, 2010, we received the UAO which had been executed by the Forest Service and we are presently carrying out the requirements of the order. We continue to coordinate with our insurers regarding policy coverage in this matter. At this time, we do not believe the costs to remediate this site will be material to our financial condition, results of operations, or cash flows.
In addition, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA") and similar state laws, we may be required to remediate contamination originating from our properties as a condition to our hazardous waste permit. Some of our manufacturing sites have an extended history of industrial chemical manufacturing and use, including on-site waste disposal. We are aware of soil, groundwater or surface contamination from past operations at some of our sites, and we may find contamination at other sites in the future. For example, our Port Neches, Texas, and Geismar, Louisiana, facilities are the subject of ongoing remediation requirements under RCRA authority. Similar laws exist in a number of locations in which we currently operate, or previously operated, manufacturing facilities, such as Australia, Switzerland and Italy.
In June of 2006, an agreement was reached between the local regulatory authorities and our Advanced Materials site in Pamplona, Spain to relocate our manufacturing operations in order to facilitate new urban development desired by the city. Subsequently, as required by the authorities, soil and groundwater sampling was performed and followed by a quantitative risk assessment. In October 2010, the local authorities approved our proposed two-phase remedial approach. The first phase was installed in 2011 and involves groundwater extraction and treatment in one limited area of the site. The second phase, not yet defined, would proceed during site redevelopment. As the second phase remediation has not yet been defined, we are unable to assess the potential liability.
By letter dated March 7, 2006, our Base Chemicals and Polymers facility in West Footscray, Australia, was issued a clean-up notice by the Environment Protection Authority, Victoria, Australia (the "EPA Victoria") due to concerns about soil and groundwater contamination emanating from the site. The agency revoked the original clean-up notice on September 4, 2007 and issued a revised clean-up notice due to "the complexity of contamination issues" at the site. In the third quarter of 2009, we recorded a $30 million liability related to estimated environmental remediation costs at this site. On August 23, 2010, EPA Victoria revoked the second clean-up notice and issued a revised notice that included a requirement for financial assurance for the remediation. We have reached agreement with the agency that a mortgage on the land will be held by the agency as financial surety during the period covered by the current clean-up notice, which ends on July 30, 2014. We can provide no assurance that the agency will not seek to institute additional requirements for the site or that additional costs will not be associated with the clean up. This facility has been closed and demolished.
By letter dated March 15, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice (the "DOJ") notified us that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the "EPA") has requested that the DOJ bring an action in federal court against us and other PRPs for recovery of costs incurred by the U.S. in connection with releases of hazardous substances from the State Marine Superfund Site in Port Arthur, Texas. As of August 31, 2007, the EPA had incurred and paid approximately $2.8 million in unreimbursed response costs related to the site. Prior to filing the complaint, the DOJ requested that PRPs sign and return a standard tolling agreement (from March 31, 2010 through September 30, 2010) and participate in settlement discussions. We originally responded to an information request regarding this site on March 7, 2005 and identified historical transactions associated with a predecessor of a company we acquired. The prior owners have contractually agreed to indemnify us in this matter. While the DOJ is aware of the indemnity, we may be required to participate in future settlement discussions; therefore, on March 29, 2010, we submitted the signed tolling agreement and offer to negotiate to the DOJ. The tolling agreement has since been extended three times, most recently through January 31, 2012.
In many cases, our potential liability arising from historical contamination is based on operations and other events occurring prior to our ownership of a business or specific facility. In these situations, we frequently obtained an indemnity agreement from the prior owner addressing remediation liabilities arising from pre-closing conditions. We have successfully exercised our rights under these contractual covenants for a number of sites and, where applicable, mitigated our ultimate remediation liability. We cannot assure you, however, that the liabilities for all such matters subject to indemnity, will be honored by the prior owner or that our existing indemnities will be sufficient to cover our liabilities for such matters.
Based on available information and the indemnification rights we believe are likely to be available, we believe that the costs to investigate and remediate known contamination will not have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. However, if such indemnities are not honored or do not fully cover the costs of investigation and remediation or we are required to contribute to such costs, then such expenditures may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. At the current time, we are unable to estimate the total cost, exclusive of indemnification benefits, to remediate any of the known contamination sites.
We have accrued liabilities relating to anticipated environmental cleanup obligations, site reclamation and closure costs and known penalties. Liabilities are recorded when potential liabilities are either known or considered probable and can be reasonably estimated. Our liability estimates are calculated using present value techniques and are based upon requirements placed upon us by regulators, available facts, existing technology and past experience. The environmental liabilities do not include amounts recorded as asset retirement obligations. We had accrued $38 million and $48 million for environmental liabilities as of September 30, 2011 and December 31, 2010, respectively. Of these amounts, $3 million and $13 million were classified as accrued liabilities in our consolidated balance sheets as of September 30, 2011 and December 31, 2010, respectively, and $35 million was classified as other noncurrent liabilities in our consolidated balance sheets for both September 30, 2011 and December 31, 2010. In certain cases, our remediation liabilities may be payable over periods of up to 30 years. We may incur losses for environmental remediation in excess of the amounts accrued; however, we are not able to estimate the amount or range of such potential excess.
On June 1, 2007, the European Union's (EU) regulatory framework for chemicals called Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals ("REACH") took effect, designed to be phased in over 11 years. As a REACH-regulated company that manufactures in or imports more than one metric ton per year of a chemical substance into the European Economic Area ("EEA"), we were required to pre-register with the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, such chemical substances and isolated intermediates to take advantage of the 11 year phase-in period. To meet our compliance obligations, a cross-business REACH team was established, through which we were able to fulfill all required pre-registrations and our first phase registrations by the November 30, 2010 deadline. While we continue our registration efforts to meet the next registration deadline of June 2013, our REACH implementation team is now strategically focused on the authorization phase of the REACH process, directing its efforts to address "Substances of Very High Concern" and evaluating potential business implications. Where warranted, evaluation of substitute chemicals will be an important element of our ongoing manufacturing sustainability efforts. As a chemical manufacturer with global operations, we are also actively monitoring and addressing analogous regulatory regimes being considered or implemented outside of the EU.
Although the total long-term cost for REACH compliance is unknown at this time, we spent approximately $9 million, $3 million and $2 million in 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively, to meet the initial REACH requirements. We cannot provide assurance that these recent expenditures are indicative of future amounts that we may be required to spend for REACH compliance.
GREENHOUSE GAS REGULATION
Although the existence of binding emissions limitations under international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol is in doubt after 2012, we expect some or all of our operations to be subject to regulatory requirements to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases ("GHG"). Even in the absence of a new global agreement to limit GHGs, we may be subject to additional regulation under the European Union Emissions Trading System as well as new national and regional GHG trading programs. For example, our operations in Australia and selected U.S. states may be subject to future GHG regulations under emissions trading systems in those jurisdictions.
Because the United States has not adopted federal climate change legislation, domestic GHG efforts are likely to be guided by EPA regulations in the near future. While EPA's GHG programs are currently subject to judicial challenge, our domestic operations may become subject to EPA's regulatory requirements when implemented. In particular, expansions of our existing facilities or construction of new facilities may be subject to the Clean Air Act's Prevention of Significant Deterioration Requirements under EPA's GHG "Tailoring Rule." In addition, certain aspects of our operations may be subject to GHG emissions monitoring and reporting requirements. If we are subject to EPA GHG regulations, we may face increased monitoring, reporting, and compliance costs.
We are already managing and reporting GHG emissions, to varying degrees, as required by law for our sites in locations subject to Kyoto Protocol obligations and/or EU emissions trading scheme requirements. Although these sites are subject to existing GHG legislation, few have experienced or anticipate significant cost increases as a result of these programs, although it is possible that GHG emission restrictions may increase over time. Potential consequences of such restrictions include capital requirements to modify assets to meet GHG emission restrictions and/or increases in energy costs above the level of general inflation, as well as direct compliance costs. Currently, however, it is not possible to estimate the likely financial impact of potential future regulation on any of our sites.
Finally, it should be noted that some scientists have concluded that increasing concentrations of GHG in the Earth's atmosphere may produce climate changes that have significant physical effects, such as increased frequency and severity of storms, droughts, and floods and other climatic events. If any of those effects were to occur, they could have an adverse effect on our assets and operations.
CHEMICAL FACILITY ANTI-TERRORISM RULEMAKING
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") issued the final "Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard." To comply, chemical manufacturing facilities using specified chemicals in threshold quantities were required to submit a "Top Screen" questionnaire to the DHS in 2008. Consequently, we submitted Top Screens for all of our covered facilities and later the DHS designated four of our facilities as "High Risk" sites. In late 2008, these four sites performed and submitted DHS-required security vulnerability assessments. DHS subsequently deemed one of these sites to be on a high security risk tier, and the other three to be on a lower security risk tier. The three lower-tiered sites submitted Site Security Plans ("SSPs") to the DHS, but costs for the security improvements recommended from the SSPs are not anticipated to be material. The higher-tiered site also submitted an SSP to the DHS, and DHS-required security upgrades were estimated to cost $8 million to $10 million to be spent during 2011 and 2012. During the nine months ended September 30, 2011, we spent approximately $2 million on these security upgrades. However, in June 2011, the DHS unexpectedly lowered the high-tiered site's risk ranking one level. Consequently, security upgrades are not expected to be as costly as originally projected for the higher-level ranking. Additional security upgrades will be required, but the extent and cost of these upgrades cannot be determined until the facility meets with the DHS to review the ranking change.
We produce MTBE, an oxygenate that is blended with gasoline to reduce vehicle air emissions and to enhance the octane rating of gasoline. Litigation or legislative initiatives restricting the use of MTBE in gasoline may subject us or our products to environmental liability or materially adversely affect our sales and costs. Because MTBE has contaminated some water supplies, its use has become controversial in the U.S. and elsewhere, and its use has been effectively eliminated in the U.S. market. We currently market MTBE, either directly or through third parties, to gasoline additive customers located outside the U.S., although there are additional costs associated with such outside-U.S. sales which may result in decreased profitability compared to historical sales in the U.S. We may also elect to use all or a portion of our precursor TBA to produce saleable products other than MTBE. If we opt to produce products other than MTBE, necessary modifications to our facilities will require significant capital expenditures and the sale of such other products may produce a lower level of cash flow than that historically produced from the sale of MTBE.
Numerous companies, including refiners, manufacturers and sellers of gasoline, as well as manufacturers of MTBE, have been named as defendants in numerous cases in U.S. courts that allege MTBE contamination in groundwater. The plaintiffs in the MTBE groundwater contamination cases generally seek compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, such as monitoring and abatement, and attorney fees. Between 2007 and 2009, we were named as a defendant in 18 of these lawsuits in New York state and federal courts, which we settled in an amount immaterial to us.
It is possible that we could be named as a defendant in existing or future MTBE contamination cases. We cannot provide assurances that adverse results against us in existing or future MTBE contamination cases will not have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial position.
During the third quarter of 2010, we completed an internal investigation of the operations of Petro Araldite Pvt. Ltd. ("PAPL"), our majority owned joint venture in India. PAPL manufactures base liquid resins, base solid resins and formulated products in India. The investigation initially focused on allegations of illegal disposal of hazardous waste and waste water discharge and related reporting irregularities. Based upon preliminary findings, the investigation was expanded to include a review of the production and off-book sales of certain products and waste products. The investigation included the legality under Indian law and U.S. law, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, of certain payments made by employees of the joint venture to government officials in India. Records at the facility covering nine months in 2009 and early 2010 show that less than $11,000 in payments were made to officials for that period; in addition, payments in unknown amounts may have been made by individuals from the facility in previous years.
In May and July 2010, PAPL fully disclosed the environmental noncompliance issues to the local Indian environmental agency, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board ("TNPCB"). All environmental compliance and reporting issues have been addressed to the agency's satisfaction other than the use of freshwater for the dilution of wastewater effluent discharges and the remediation of several off-site solid waste disposal areas. Also in May 2010, we voluntarily contacted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SEC") and the DOJ to advise them of our investigation and that we intend to cooperate fully with each of them. We met with the SEC and the DOJ in October 2010 to discuss this matter and we continue to cooperate with these agencies. Steps have been taken to halt all known illegal or improper activity. These steps included the termination of employment of management employees as appropriate. TNPCB directed us to submit a plan for the remediation of the off-site waste disposal areas and the plan was approved. The impacted off-site soil has been excavated and relocated to the site. Final disposal methods for the removed waste await approval from TNPCB.
No conclusions can be drawn at this time as to whether any government agencies will open formal investigations of these matters or what remedies such agencies may seek. Governmental agencies could assess material civil and criminal penalties and fines against PAPL and potentially against us and could issue orders that adversely affect the operations of PAPL. We cannot, however, determine at this time the magnitude of the penalties and fines that could be assessed, the total costs to remediate the prior noncompliance or the effects of implementing any necessary corrective measures on PAPL's operations.