Why Is It Literally Raining Oil in the Caribbean?

Alarming news from St. Croix

The scenic landscapes of St. Croix, sans oil.

By Tobias Carroll

St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, has plenty about it to recommend — including a host of historically significant ruins and a number of ecosystems that include deserts and rain forests. But as of late, there’s been another feature on the island that’s a lot less welcoming — showers of oil plummeting down on the landscape. This is neither a harbinger of the apocalypse nor a mysterious phenomenon suited for another X-Files revival. Instead, unfortunately, the explanation for this bizarre precipitation is all too mundane.

At Earther, Molly Taft delved into this phenomenon. It turns out that oil has rained down on the island multiple times this year, which seems especially egregious — “It seems to be raining oil” is the kind of thing someone should not need to say at any time in their life, much less multiple times.

The oil showers originated at the Limetree Bay refinery, which was built in the 1960s and has had a, shall we say, troubled environmental history. “It leaked 43 million gallons of oil between its opening and the early 1980s and was fined $5.4 million by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 for various Clean Air Act violations,” Taft noted. And that’s not even getting to the whole “raining oil” part.

Earlier this year, a malfunctioning valve caused oil residue to fall from the sky on 130 homes. Last week, more oil fell on the island, preceded by a flare coming from a smokestack. The refinery has been shut down temporarily while its management investigates the issue; they’ll also be providing water to the affected residents, which seems like the proverbial least they could do.