FuelFix: Report: Louisiana refineries could be site of next oil catastrophe

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December 13th, 2010

Frequent accidents at Louisiana oil refineries should be a wake-up call of bigger problems and must be addressed or the industry faces the risk of another catastrophe like the BP oil spill this summer, the United Steelworkers and community groups said in a report today.

To prevent more worker injuries and further harm to local communities, refiners must do a better job of maintaining equipment, preparing for hurricanes and reducing harmful emissions related to routine flaring, said the report, called “Common Ground II: Why Cooperation to Reduce Accidents at Louisiana Refineries Is Needed Now.”

The report examines 2,067 accident reports submitted to state environmental regulators by Louisiana’s 17 refineries between 2005 and 2009. It found each facility had an average of 10 accidents per week, ranging from worker deaths to unplanned releases of harmful gases.

One of those came in 2008, when ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery failed to shut down prior to Hurricane Gustav, resulting in the release of 500,000 pounds of pollutants via 12 days of flaring, the report said. Another happened in October, at ExxonMobil’s Chalmette plant, where poor maintenance contributed to the death of a contract worker, it said.

“Many refinery accidents are preventable,” Gary Beevers, oil sector chief for the United Steelworkers union, said in a statement. “It takes adequate maintenance, heeding the warning signs and investigating whether the ‘lessons learned from previous accidents within the industry apply to a refiner’s facility.”

In addition to the union, the report was compiled by activist group the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, refinery neighbors and the Environmental Working Group.

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