Dyline Thomas’ St. Croix home was filled with an odor that hurt her stomach, made her nose run, and made her throat ache for weeks, she said. Then, in mid-May, Oil was discovered in her yard. A flare incident occurred two days prior at the Limetree Bay refinery, located upwind of Thomas’s residence.
Oil droplets were blasted into the sky as flames and smoke billowed from the flare stack, pushed west by the wind and rain down on surrounding homes. The US Environmental Protection Agency took an unusual and drastic action this month, ordering a 60-day emergency shutdown of the facility, claiming an “imminent risk” to public health.
The department, which oversees territories like the US Virgin Islands, recorded many occurrences in which oil was discharged into the environment and sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, both of which induce respiratory sickness. Now, St. Croix, a Caribbean island with a majority Black population, weighs its economic future against the health and environmental consequences of a severe gamble on Oil.
For an economy devastated by hurricanes and the epidemic, the refinery has been a significant source of jobs and money. However, some of the islands’ 50,000 residents wonder if the price is too great, especially for a community on the front lines of the climate change problem, which includes rising sea levels and more powerful storms.
Residents of this 84-square-mile island, the largest of the three major US Virgin Islands, have lived alongside heavy industrial operations for decades. The refinery first opened in 1966, and its Virgin Islander employees rose to the middle class under the administration of Hess Corporation and then Hovensa.