The Advocate (Baton Rouge): Refinery accidents cited

| News

December 14th, 2010

Advocate staff writer
Published: Dec 14, 2010 - Page: 2B

The number of accidents in Louisiana refineries each year should be a red flag about future potential problems, according to members of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

On Monday, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Environmental Working Group and the United Steelworkers released a report that compiled 2,607 self-reported accidents that Louisiana’s 17 refineries made to the state Department of Environmental Quality from 2005 to 2009.

The report — “Common Ground II: Why Cooperation to Reduce Accidents at Louisiana Refineries is Needed Now” — also looks at reasons given for accidental pollution releases, amounts released by each refinery and suggested remedies.

The number of accidents is likely more than 2,607 because only releases that cross a certain threshold are required to be reported, said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

She said the group tried to find as many reports to DEQ that were below those thresholds as well, so as to get a better feeling for what is actually being released.

Industry representatives disagree.

“Subsequent detailed analyses of the report by individual refineries have uncovered significant overestimations and misrepresentations of the actual release data,” wrote Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, to the EPA earlier this year.

The letter was in response to the first refinery safety report the brigade released last year, but John said Monday that the views also apply to this report.

In a written statement, ExxonMobil spokeswoman Lana Sonnier said, “We take compliance responsibilities seriously. ExxonMobil is diligent in its reporting of incidents, no matter how small, and we use this data to review and track improvements.”

Rolfes said refineries in the state have taken issue with the fact the report doesn’t just include the reportable amounts of pollution that are released.

Instead, the report’s numbers also include smaller releases that don’t require notice.

The ultimate goal of the report is to get refineries interested in talking with the brigade and community members who live near refineries about ways pollution releases can be reduced, Rolfes said.

It’s been tough to cut through the mistrust the companies have for the group, she said.

In addition, there’s opposition because the community members and the organization aren’t engineers, she said.

She compared it with Crime Stoppers, where the police get tips from residents in an area to help catch criminals even though the residents aren’t trained in law enforcement.

In John’s letter to the EPA in February, he outlined concerns about a public meeting with individual refineries.
Included among the concerns was that some of people invited to participate are involved in lawsuits with refineries “either directly or through umbrella environmental organizations to which they belong.”

John also outlined concerns about discussing in public the sometimes proprietary technologies refineries use, and concerns about the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s report itself.

“LMOGA is very concerned that the EPA is inviting refineries to a meeting based on a report that is of questionable validity and one that has not been properly reviewed,” John wrote.

Rolfes said she’d like refineries to change their way of thinking and increase staff to address maintenance issues that can lead to pollution releases.

“Even though it’s a problem, it’s a really good opportunity to hire workers,” Rolfes said, about looking at the report as an economic development opportunity.

“Only boots on the ground would solve this,” she said.

The full report appears at

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