Refinery Fire after Power Outage

Monday, July 30, 2012 @ 02:07 PM gHale

A power outage last Friday night cascaded into a Sunday morning fire at a Louisiana refinery, officials said.

It all started Friday night at Valero Energy Corp.’s Meraux refinery and after company workers tried to restart the units Saturday, a fire broke out Sunday morning in the refinery’s crude oil unit and the foul odors and deep orange flames reported by neighboring residents, according to a Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

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The 2 a.m. Sunday crude oil fire caused the refinery to shut down again and triggered additional flaring, according to authorities and witnesses.

Officials will not know the exact chemicals and the amount discharged until later on this week when DEQ receives the mandatory report from Valero. By law, a company must file a report postmarked at least seven days following any discharges larger than permitted amounts.

Suzanne Kneale, who is a member of a concerned citizens group consisting of residents near the refinery, filed a DEQ complaint Sunday saying Saturday morning both of the refinery’s flares were in use and “the south flare flame was deep orange with a sooty looking trail.” She said by Saturday evening, she had observed a large discharge that the wind was carrying north.

Last fall, Murphy Oil USA sold the Meraux refinery to Valero for about $325 million plus the value of hydrocarbon inventory on hand, which was about $300 million.

On Saturday evening, St. Bernard Parish residents also described a beeping alarm coming from the refinery. That evening, hydrogen sulfide levels were measured as high as 78 part per billion by Valero’s ambient air monitor and Kneale said the high readings occurred during the same time she observed flaring and a larger than usual discharge.

Residents of the neighborhood adjacent to the plant complained of odors.

St. Bernard Parish fire department officials responded to the early Sunday morning fire but Fire Chief Thomas Stone has said that no one was in danger.

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