Clark oil accused of 'inconsistencies' (Chicago - oil refinery)greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Clark Oil accused of 'inconsistencies'
Citing past, refinery says Y2K power outage unlikely
Thursday, December 23, 1999
By Brent Watters Staff Writer
During a federally mandated meeting earlier this week, Frank LaPointe, manager of the Clark Oil refinery in Blue Island, and other company officials said Clark is not concerned about losing electricity at the refinery, especially as a result of Y2K, because there hasn't been a power outage at the plant in more than 30 years.
But in October 1994, a power outage at the refinery caused a valve to stick and emit an aluminum oxide dust into the air for 30 minutes. Nearly 50 students from nearby Eisenhower High School were treated for respiratory problems at area hospitals and three had remained hospitalized for three days.
In March 1995, another power failure at the refinery caused an unknown amount of sulfur dioxide to be released into the air and caused the plant to be shut down temporarily.
Local environmentalists and residents who attended Monday's meeting said Clark's inaccurate statements about power losses are indicative of the problems with the information the company released or failed to release at Monday's meeting.
"They were holding that meeting because they were forced to and they were doing it reluctantly. There was and always has been inconsistencies in the information that Clark releases," said Joan Silke, a Blue Island resident and member of the Good Neighbor Committee, which formed with the purpose of learning more about the refinery.
LaPointe did not return phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday.
Under a provision in the federal Clean Air Act passed in 1990, companies such as Clark that handle large amounts of any one of 140 potentially hazardous chemicals were required to implement a risk-management program. An August 1999 amendment to the act required companies to hold a public meeting to discuss their worst-case scenarios and their risk-management plans.
This summer, the scenarios and maps were to have been made public via the Internet, but industry convinced Congress to delay their release for at least a year due to terrorism concerns.
Environmentalists such as Lionel Trepanier, a member of the Chicago Greens, said they were outraged at how Clark officials downplayed the dangers of the potentially hazardous hydrofluoric acid that is used at the plant as they discussed their hypothetical scenarios Monday.
"It was ludicrous. They basically said hydrofluoric acid was not that hazardous and that people could easily be treated if they were exposed to it," Trepanier said.
Hydrofluoric acid, also called hydrogen fluoride, is used as a catalyst in a process to boost the octane of gasoline.
Newer refineries have moved away from using the chemical, in part because of the acid's potential to cause a catastrophic accident like the one that killed 2,000 people and injured more than 100,000 near a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India in 1984. The Bhopal release involved a different chemical, methyl isocyanate.
But experts like Abby Jarka, staff engineer for Citizens for A Better Environment, say hydrofluoric acid can be just as lethal under certain circumstances.
"It is the most dangerous chemical refineries use. High concentrations of it are considered immediately dangerous to life and health," Jarka said.
The worst-case scenario discussed by Clark involved an accidental release of 235,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid over ten minutes without any chance for the company to intervene to stop it.
LaPointe said such an accident "would never happen."
Clark officials said Monday that such a leak would impact an area within a 19 to 25 mile radius downwind of the refinery.
But Clark officials refused to define what kind of impact a major release of hydrofluoric acid would have on people within the danger zone, although the company was required by law to make that assessment in preparing its worst-case scenario plan.
But Silke said from her research she knows what the impact would be.
"Anyone who knows about hydrofluoric acid knows 'total impact' means 'dead' and for the rest it means severe health problems. I don't know why they don't want to discuss what could happen. It was part of what they were supposed to do," Silke said.
Though the company was required to have such information prepared, Clark officials were unable to say how many people would be "impacted" by such a catastrophic release if one occurred.
"I don't know if they didn't properly prepare their risk management plan or if they didn't give people the whole story," said Jarka, who did not attend the meeting.
Clark officials said the company would take full responsibility for any accident that took place.
But they said a more realistic accident scenario would involve 170 pounds of hydrofluoric acid leaking for 30 seconds from a severed 2-inch-diameter, 10-foot-long transfer pipeline.
Clark officials said that remote-controlled, high-pressure water hoses would eliminate 90 percent of the fumes that would be released and the remaining substance would travel less than a tenth-of-a-mile and would not cause "great harm" to anyone who came in contact with it.
"That means it would not affect the students at Eisenhower High School," LaPointe said during the meeting.
LaPointe's statement was taken with grain of salt by the environmentalists who had questioned Clark officials about past accidents that affected the high school, which is located less than a =-mile from the refinery.
Environmentalists used as an example a May 1995 incident when 15 pounds of hydrofluoric acid leaked from a corroded pipe at the refinery and led the high school to send 15 students who had complained of eye irritation, nausea and headaches home for the day.
It was one of two incidents that prompted judge to order the temporary shutdown of all or part of the refinery. It also prompted the state to require Clark to install the remote-controlled, high-pressure hoses.
When activists inquired about that accident, Clark engineer Dan Sanders responded that "students go home everyday from school."
Such answers only added to the agitation of the handful of environmentalists and residents were unhappy with the way Clark conducted the meeting.
"It was most informal public meeting I have ever been to. The worst part of it was when they had Santa Claus come in the room. I could hardly believe it," Silke said, referring to a Clark employee dressed as Santa Claus who wandered around the meeting room.
Outside of the appearance of Santa Claus, some attendees were dismayed that the company did not make any formal presentation at the meeting, and that the event was set up like a science fair, with Clark representatives answering questions for individuals while standing in front of small displays.
LaPointe said members of Clark's Community Advisory Panel, which is made up of area residents, had suggested that the meeting be set up in that manner to provide more one-on-one discussions.
But the advisory panel has been criticized by local environmentalists who say Clark has purposely excluded them from taking part in the panel in order to create a group that won't question the company's information.
Jarka said she was surprised to hear about how Clark conducted the meeting.
"I have attended other such meetings and for the most part they were all done with a presentation and question-and-answer session. Most companies had the answers people wanted readily available and if they didn't they made a commitment to get back to people," Jarka said.
Hank Naour, an official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called the structure of Monday's meeting which he did not attend "unfortunate."
"The point of these meetings were to not skirt the issues but have answers ready for the public. By not doing so a company only puts themselves in a bad position because people will feel that someone is hiding something from them and trust is lost," Naour said.
Unfortunately, standards for how the informational meetings are to be run have not been set by Congress, Naour said.
"This is a new process. We are relying on the companies to understand the intent of the meetings and respect the spirit of the agreement in hosting these meetings," Naour said.
While overall Silke was dismayed at how Clark presented its information at the meeting, she came out of it encouraged that it could lead to a better exchange of information between her group and the company.
"The doors had been closed for a while but I was told that this meeting would kind of mark a new point in our relations. We'll see," Silke said.
While Silke walked away from the meeting somewhat encouraged, Trepanier said he plans to file a complaint with the EPA because he doesn't believe the meeting met the federal requirements.
Naour said that though Congress has not set standards for how the informational meetings should be run, Trepanier is free to voice his dissatisfaction.
"I encourage people to call or write letters to myself and officials at the U.S. EPA Region Five office if they are not satisfied with the meeting and we'll look into the situation," Naour said.
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), December 23, 1999
I don't know how to thank you enough for this article! My grandparents live on High St. in Blue Island and can see St. Francis Hospital from their front porch and they're only a few miles from the Clark "cracking" plants. They're GI, but they're reluctant to leave. I'm getting on the horn with them now!
Thank you again!
-- Deb M. (email@example.com), December 23, 1999.
Once again thanks for you vigilance in posting relevant articles. This one really confirms for us in a proveable way just how an oil company can lie about its Y2K status. This is an example of an awful and badly directed oil company. Note the following snippets from the article above.
"meeting said Clark's inaccurate statements about power losses are indicative of the problems with the information the company released or failed to release "
My thought: "inaccurate statements" = Lies or fraud, deceit, deception.
I love this part of the article:
"Clark officials downplayed the dangers of the potentially hazardous hydrofluoric acid that is used at the plant as they discussed their hypothetical scenarios Monday. "It was ludicrous. They basically said hydrofluoric acid was not that hazardous and that people could easily be treated if they were exposed to it," Trepanier said.
Newer refineries have moved away from using the chemical, in part because of the acid's potential to cause a catastrophic accident like the one that killed 2,000 people and injured more than 100,000 near a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India in 1984. The Bhopal release involved a different chemical, methyl isocyanate."
Doesn't that just say it all. Tells you what kind of BS seems to be coming from these folks.
And to think people (including our gov't beleive these folks when they say they fixed their computers and embedded systems???????
-- R.C. (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 23, 1999.
At work(I.C. manufacturer) we use Hydrofluoric acid(among others). Exposure to the vapors can cause irreversable corneal damage, including blindness. Exposure to vapors in the respritory system can be fatal.
Thats why there is not enough money on the planet for me to be at work over the roll-over. I also live within 5 Mi. of work.
We are pretty much ready, but accidents and unforseen events can happen, especially during that time. FWIW
-- CygnusXI (email@example.com), December 23, 1999.
BTW, that info on hydrofuoric acid I gave was pulled right from the MSDS(Material Safety Data Sheet). It is a dangerous chemical in large quantities.
-- CygnusXI (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 23, 1999.
Competitively speaking, of all the US refiners Clark would be the one that I'd be most worried about. They're undercapitalized. They've bought up and operated older refineries that the majors don't want. And they aren't diversified-they've sold all their retail stations and they never have been involved in the upstream sector. Almost their entire profitability comes from refiner's margins. And for all you 'the oil companies are always gouging us' conspiracy types, Clark demonstrates that refineries give some of the worst returns on investments of any asset class (they're publicly traded so their profitability is transparent). They don't make any money. Consequently, I've wondered how an outfit like Clark can afford sufficient remediation efforts.
I've worked for them in a consulting capacity (in the marketing/trading realm, not in the technical refining sector)so I've seen how they operate first hand. This story doesn't surprise me one bit.
Their Blue Island unit can't take the cheap Canadian sour barrels and it struggles with recent environmental specs like low sulfur diesel. This next round of environmental mandates will probably facilitate their shutdown.
But when these 'marginal' refineries shut down and no new ones get built I don't need to tell you what will happen in the refinery sector that's currently operating at capacity. Take Calif gasoline economics this last season, multiply 'em and spread 'em all over the country. Crude fundamentals aside, this rollover might serve to demonstrate what'll happen when a tight market (refineries) suffer unexpected disruptions.
Sell the SUV and get the bike out. In the long run it'll be good for you anyway.
-- Downstreamer (email@example.com), December 23, 1999.
Got gas mask?
-- spider (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 23, 1999.
Clark is not concerned about losing electricity at the refinery, especially as a result of Y2K, because there hasn't been a power outage at the plant in more than 30 years"
Geeeezzz...we haven't had a serious worldwide computer failure problem in at least that long.
Rhodes Scholars, all of'em.
-- Y2Kook (Y2Kook@usa.net), December 23, 1999.