Report: La. refinery accidents down

Refineries in Louisiana had fewer accidents in 2011 than the previous year, but those accidents resulted in more pollution being released, according to a Louisiana Bucket Brigade report.

Using information facilities report to the state Department of Environmental Quality, the environmental group’s report states there were 301 accidents reported from 17 refineries in 2011. That’s down from 354 accidents reported in 2010.

The amount of pollution released from those accidents increased from 974,000 pounds and 200,000 gallons in 2010 to 1 million pounds and 1.3 million gallons in 2011. The 1.3 million gallons is almost entirely the result of a cooling water accident at Chalmette Refining, according to the report, “Common Ground IV: Why Cooperation to Reduce Accidents at Louisiana Refineries is Needed Now.” It was released in cooperation with the United Steelworkers.

“The reason we released this with the United Steelworkers is it would be good for our economy if they got serious about it. It would help our state and regional economy,” Anne Rolfes, founding director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said about refineries hiring more people to address potential problems before accidents occur.

Like in past years, industry representatives and DEQ officials are cautious about the report because of previous ones.

“We have not been able to make the numbers match,” Cheryl Nolan, assistant secretary of DEQ’s Office of Environmental Compliance, said about the environmental group’s reports and information DEQ has on file. She said she offered to work with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and review its draft report this year “so we can be on the same page,” but that didn’t happen.

David Gray, director of external and government affairs with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency was reviewing the report Monday so it was too early to draw conclusions.

However, “the EPA supports early notification of communities in the event of accidental releases. An informed community is better prepared. We all have a shared responsibility to continue making progress in this goal and recommend that communities report to local authorities when they experience potential releases,” Gray said.

Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said his group is still looking over the report. Based on past reports, there’s concern that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade counts one incident multiple times because of the number of reports one incident may generate, he said.

“In the past, this common ground report has added all that up and come up with six incidents but it was five reports on one incident,” John said.

Rolfes said that’s not true and that her group researches information very carefully to weed out multiple reports on the same incident so there is no double counting of accidents.

John said another concern is that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade counts reports of accidents that don’t rise to a legally reportable amount of pollution. These “courtesy reports” are not required to be filed, he said, but get counted in the report.

ExxonMobil Baton Rouge spokeswoman Stephanie Cargile, said “for example, the report states that the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery had 98 incidents in 2011, when the actual amount was 23 incidents where reportable quantity limits set by regulatory agencies were exceeded.”

Rolfes said her group counts “non-reportable” accidents in its report because they are important. She cited a fire in April 2010 where three workers were hospitalized, but the amount of pollution by the facility released was below the reportable quantities required to generate a report.

Rolfes said she knows there will be criticism of the report as there has been in past years.

“They will say our numbers are inaccurate,” she said.

The goal of the report, Rolfes said, is to spur change in how refineries operate and prevent accidents. Part of the effort is getting residents near the refineries more involved in local emergency planning commissions, she said.

Industry representatives, including ExonMobil’s Cargile, said they already involve residents in their planning through ongoing dialogue and education in communities in which they operate.

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