Our Views: Keeping area plants safe

This month’s deadly accidents at two chemical plants in Ascension Parish provided stark reminders of a simple but easily overlooked fact:

Even in an age of increased automation, the petrochemical industry continues to depend on large numbers of workers who are willing to do challenging and sometimes dangerous tasks. That reality hits deeply in south Louisiana, where petrochemical plants make up a large part of the regional economy.

A June 13 explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins chemical plant in Geismar killed two people and injured dozens of others. A subsequent explosion at CF Industries in Donaldsonville on June 14 killed one person and injured several others.

The accidents prompted some online commenters to question the wisdom of Louisiana’s reliance on industries that present such demonstrable dangers. We’ve long argued in favor of economic diversity, but south Louisiana will continue to be a center of petrochemical processing into the foreseeable future. In fact, the reduced price of natural gas — a key factor in many industrial processes — means that south Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor is positioned for growth, not contraction. That growth can benefit us all.

But this month’s accidents underscored the need for workplaces that are not only productive and profitable, but safe. That safety must extend to workers — and to residents of neighborhoods surrounding industrial plants.

After visiting Geismar following the Williams Olefins explosion, Gov. Bobby Jindal promised that officials would determine what happened “to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Although life can never be free of accidents, we’re glad that Jindal affirmed plant safety as a top concern. His presence in Geismar also appeared to recognize the obvious role that government must play in holding industry accountable to high safety standards. That ideal is worth remembering, even after this month’s accidents recede from the headlines.