Over the past few months I’ve read numerous articles about the pros and cons of expanding production at local refineries.
Air quality is the main topic of these articles, but air quality is only one concern.
I have worked in the petrochemical field for close to 30 years and was very proud of the company where I was employed. Even though production was high on the priority list, safety for their employees and the surrounding community was their main concern.
I believe all the refineries in the valley have good intentions toward meeting air quality regulations, but unfortunately unforeseen events can occur during plant operation that can cause air quality to exceed regulatory limits for short periods of time.
This is unfortunate but realistic because safety devices are built into the refining processes to prevent over-pressuring of equipment. Air quality will remain a high priority to all refineries and processes will improve through engineering design concepts during refinery upgrades and expansion periods in the future.
Now about my main concern: Catastrophic Failure. What is it? It’s a worst case scenario that if everything in a refinery were to explode simultaneously. If this were to happen, how would this affect the facility, its employees, contractors, and the surrounding community?
Refineries are required to meet all 14 elements of OSHA’s Process Safety Management regulation and the question needs to be asked: Has anyone reviewed these records to verify refineries are in compliance before even thinking about letting them increase production?
All refineries must also have an emergency response action plan that identifies procedures to follow if an emergency or catastrophic failure should occur. This information should be available to anyone interested in knowing what to do in an emergency situation, God forbid.
Some refineries have homes and businesses built in or near the blast zone of their facility; yet they want to increase the production of more volatile products, putting their neighbors at even higher risk! What have our city administrators done to ensure the safety of the people and private businesses in close proximity to refineries, especially after the explosion that took place in Woods Cross?
Some refineries will state this event will never happen because of all the safety features that were designed to protect each system. But Murphy’s Law states that “If it can happen it will.”
Failures have occurred in the past and will repeat themselves in the future because people are human and make mistakes, and equipment has a tendency to fail.
I remember reading about the cloud over Texas City where a piping failure caused a hydrophloric acid vapor release that affected thousands of people downwind throughout Texas City, Texas.
What about the Woods Cross refinery explosion that injured four people, moved a home off its foundation, and shook other homes, breaking windows a mile away?
This was just a vapor leak ignition. Imagine if it would have been a propane tank explosion,
These are just two of many incidents that have occurred in the past. Imagine what would happen if all the LPG tanks were to explode at the same time, thus igniting surrounding tanks and equipment, causing them to explode.
An explosion of this magnitude would kill a lot of people, both at the facility and throughout the community; not to mention damage and destruction of homes and businesses throughout the area.
So, folks, when it comes down to what’s more important, the increased production for more profits for refineries and the state or the safety of the people and our communities?
I think the answer our city fathers have given speaks for itself!