Safety Alert after DE Refinery Fire

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 @ 10:03 AM gHale

A “small electrical fire and power outage” affected PBF Energy’s refinery operations near Delaware City, DE, for several hours last week, which meant refinery gases ended up diverted to the plant’s open-air incinerators, company officials said.

“As a safety measure, we flared gases following established procedures,” spokeswoman Lisa J. Lindsey said. “Trained personnel monitored local communities for offsite impacts and we did receive odor complaints from several neighbors.” Lindsey said PBF is conducting an investigation.

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Delaware City, built to process heavy, high-sulfur crude oil, can refine up to 191,000 barrels of crude oil daily, along with nearly 20,000 barrels daily of partially refined materials.

Refinery flares act as safety valves, allowing operators to quickly and safely shut down processing and reduce pressure in complex systems during emergencies. But gas-burning can come at a huge price. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2000 that some plants could send up to 100 tons of sulfur dioxide daily into the air during uncontrolled flaring of sulfur-rich, acid gas from operations. Refineries like Delaware City, where crudes generally carry a higher percentage of sulfur than most, were particular concerns.

PBF officials said some sulfur dioxide released during the latest flaring episode. Other pollutants also likely escaped the plant in smaller amounts. Details on affected units were not immediately available. Faint odors were still noticeable in some areas around the plant at mid-morning.

In addition to sulfur dioxide, two other toxic compounds – hydrogen cyanide and acetonitrile – released into the air during the three-hour episode, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Acetonitrile mainly acts as a solvent in industries, and by refineries for purifying other hydrocarbons. It can metabolize into hydrogen cyanide in the body.

The refinery reported it had not yet calculated the amount of the materials released.

DNREC officials said the agency is monitoring the company’s response and will investigate.

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