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Valero Oil Refinery came close to ‘catastrophic incident’

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EXCLUSIVE REPORT

 

A POTENTIALLY ‘catastrophic incident’ took place at Valero’s Pembroke Oil Refinery last year involving leaking gas and an ignition source, the Pembrokeshire Herald can reveal.

​​This newspaper has been contacted by a number of workers at the site who have told us that it is only ​’pure luck’ which prevented leaking gases from​ being blown into an ignition source, believed to be a furnace, which could have led to another lethal incident at the plant.
Valero have confirmed that they are working with statutory authorities who are investigating the event, which occurred ​on November 3​0​ last year. It involved the Alkylate Iso-Stripper, which creates Alkylate – a premium component of petrol that has exceptional anti-knock properties and is clean burning. The Iso-Stripper is a high risk area of refining, and uses either sulphuric acid or hydrofluoric acid as a catalyst for its chemical reactions.
The oil refinery’s management told The Herald that it is working with ‘continued co-operation’ with regulators, and highlighted in a statement that ‘no personnel were injured’ and that ‘there was no impact on the community’​.​
Valero, which says it is one of the leading employers in south Wales, added that they are unable to comment further during the period of investigation.
HSE INVESTIGATES
A Health & Safety Executive spokesperson told The Herald in a prepared statement: “We are aware of an incident at the Valero Energy Limited Pembroke Refinery in November 2017 which was reported to the Health and Safety Executive under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013).
“We can confirm that the incident took place on the Alkylate Iso-Stripper, and is being investigated.
“No enforcement action has been taken, though the investigation remains ongoing.”
PUSHING THE PLANT HARDER
Our source​s​ working at the refinery told The Pembrokeshire Herald, on condition of anonymity, that the incident last year was due to the refinery being pushed harder than before. This, combined with the ageing infrastructure at the site, lead to the close call.
He told us: “They have increased output which puts more strain on the equipment.​”
Another employee at the site, who also did not wish to be named, confirmed this. He said that since the refinery was bought from Chevron, it is being stretched and running ​20-30% harder than before.
This, combined with a lack of maintenance, is making it an ‘accident waiting to happen’, he added.
RECENT LEAK OF GAS
Valero confirmed that last month’s activation of emergency sirens was in response to another leak of gas at the plant. But it is not currently known from which part of the refinery.
Readers contacted The Pembrokeshire Herald by telephone​ and social media on the morning of March 29 concerned after hearing a warning sound, which started at exactly 8.01am.
On contacting the refinery the Herald was initially told by a security worker: “We have no information at the moment, we are not sure if it’s a test or not.”
Looking to clarify his answer, our reporter asked: “So you are not sure if it’s a test or a real emergency?”
The Herald was told: “That’s right”
It is understood that there was confusion due to previous false alarms.
Later this newspaper received a statement from Valero spokesperson and Refinery Public Affairs Manager, Stephen Thornton, who said: “At 8:00 am on 29th March 2018, the alarm sounded on site due to identification of a minor gas leak.
“Operations responded promptly to isolate and de-pressure the line to stop the leak.”
SAFETY A ‘GUIDING PRINCIPLE’
In a statement prepared by Valero for The Pembrokeshire Herald, the company said: “Safety is the guiding principle for all that we do at Pembroke Refinery, and Valero takes strong exception to any suggestions otherwise. As one of Europe’s largest and most complex refineries, our highly skilled workforce at Pembroke Refinery operates according to comprehensive and rigorous management systems and standards of safety.
Valero does not comment on operational activities at Pembroke Refinery, however all our activities are conducted within approved regulatory permit limits. All refinery work is undertaken according to stringent regulatory, industry and company standards that ensure the continued effective integrity of the plant, regardless of working capacity. Our advanced and sophisticated operational, inspection and maintenance procedures at the refinery are underpinned by a safety culture fostered across all our personnel, focused on recognising and eliminating hazards before they occur.
“In addition to our own focus on safety, Valero also actively works alongside public bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive, emergency services, the local authority and other agencies to manage risk. This includes Valero’s continued cooperation with regulators regarding an ongoing investigation into an event that occurred in November 2017. No personnel were injured during this incident and there were no impacts on the community, however we are unable to comment further during this investigation.
“Anyone making enquiries regarding Valero’s operations, including our site alarm system, should ask to speak to a member of Valero’s Policy, Government & Public Affairs Department.
“All calls received at the refinery are dealt with by our dedicated security team who follow protocol of not confirming refinery operational details, but will pass your details on if requested.​”​

Akylation unit: The location in the refinery where ‘dangerous incident’ occurred

OIL REFINING – A HAZARDOUS ENTERPRISE

Refinery fire: 2011 accident tragically claimed four lives

It is not the first time that Valero have had the safety of their workplace questioned, nor the first time an incident has affected the Pembroke refinery.
Valero were fined £400,000 at Swansea Crown Court after an incident involving a walkway collapsing and an employee left hanging from ropes at their refinery in Pembroke. It was found that Valero, the American oil company which purchased the Pembroke site in a £447m deal in March 2011, failed to follow procedure and carry out a comprehensive risk assessment on the access tower of which the gangway collapsed seriously injuring a worker.
It was said in court that the maintenance contractor of Valero had their suggestions ignored over the potential risks of the access tower, as they raised the point that there was a ‘potential fatal accident waiting to happen.’ Valero were also seen to give inadequate training and instructions to employees, regarding the safe operation of the tower and gangway.
The incident took place on March 5 2012, as David Thomas, an operator at the refinery, was making his way towards an unloading oil tanker via the gangway of the access tower. The walkway suddenly collapsed and he was dropped 3.5 metres. Mr Thomas, 55, was left swinging from wire rope that had wrapped round his legs, but, as a keen rock climber, was able to distribute the weight from his legs by gripping a cross beam. Despite this, he suffered a dislocated knee as well as lacerations and fractures. Mr Thomas was released from hospital after 17 days, but soon developed arthritis, and ultimately didn’t return to work.
It was deemed that three other related incidents at the refinery previous to the gangway accident, in August 2010, February 2011 and September 2011, were poorly investigated and that a proper checklist assessment was not carried out.
At the time of the infamous explosion in June 2011, which resulted in four fatalities, the refinery was still operated by Chevron, yet the deal to sell the refinery to Valero had already been organised. In November 2015, the Crown Prosecution Service ultimately decided against pressing charges of corporate manslaughter.

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​Pembrokeshire Women’s Institutes visits Senedd

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MEMBERS from Women’s Institutes across Pembrokeshire visited the Senedd last week.

Mid and West Wales AM Helen Mary Jones met Pembrokeshire residents and gave a speech giving background to her work as an Assembly Member.

The focus of the meeting was how more women can get involved in politics at a local and national level, particularly when marking 100 years since some women got the vote for the first time.

Plaid Cymru Mid and West Wales AM Helen Mary Jones said: “I was pleased to chat with WI members from Pembrokeshire about how we can get more women involved in Welsh politics.

“There are persistent barriers to get more women involved in public life including the cost involved in standing for election, the time it takes particularly because caring activities usually falls on women. There is also a confidence issue.

“While the National Assembly has a strong reputation in relation to balanced gender representation, more has to be done to protect Wales’s achievements. I’m pleased therefore to see the panel on Assembly Electoral Reform recommend parties put forward balanced slates of male and female candidates.

“Women are the minority in our council chambers and in the House of Commons – making up 28 per cent of Welsh county councillors and 28 per cent of Welsh MPs. Plaid Cymru is taking active steps by passing a motion in last week’s conference to increase representation of women. We need deeds not just words.

“The private sector also has a long way to go. In 2017 in Wales, only six per cent of chief executives of the top 100 businesses in Wales are female.

“A number of issues were addressed during the question and answer session from the election of Donald Trump to the need for the protection of services at Withybush Hospital. I made sure the women were aware that the buck stops with the Cabinet Secretary for Health Vaughan Gething when it comes to the health service in Wales.”

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Police name Carmarthenshire man killed by Storm Callum landslide

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE has confirmed the man who died in a landslide at Cwmduad during Storm Callum yesterday (Oct 13) is 21-year-old Corey Thomas Sharpling, from Newcastle Emlyn.

Corey’s family has paid tribute to him, saying: “We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of our beautiful son Corey.

“Many knew his wit, charm and sense of loyalty and we take those things with us in our hearts. We would like to thank the community for their support at this time and also friends and colleagues at University of Wales Trinity, St David, Carmarthen.

“As a family we would appreciate time to grieve and ask to be given privacy in which to do so.”

Specialist police officers are supporting Corey’s family. Dyfed-Powys Police is investigating the circumstances of his death.

Inspector Chris Neve said: “Dyfed-Powys Police officers attended the A484 near Cwmduad on Saturday, October 13, following reports a tree had fallen on to the road.

“While officers were dealing with the obstruction a large scale landslide occurred, which tragically resulted in Corey losing his life at the scene.

“We are currently working with partner agencies to make the area safe for residents and road users and I urge people to stay away from the location at this time. The road is closed.

“Corey’s death will no doubt be a shock to the local community and on behalf of Dyfed-Powys Police I offer my deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”

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Haverfordwest: THI project to renovate old post office

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THE OLD Post Office building in Quay Street, Haverfordwest, is undergoing a major refurbishment project thanks to the Haverfordwest Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI).

The grant funders to the THI are the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cadw and Pembrokeshire County Council, which has awarded £100,000 towards the project.

“We’ve been working with the committed Haverhub team for many months now and I’m pleased we’ve been able to support their efforts through this Grant award,” said Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Leisure and Culture.

The building, which has been empty for many years, is an example of the high quality neo-Georgian post offices of the inter-war period.

It is constructed from Bath stone ashlar, with its doric colonnaded door and finely-carved royal arms providing striking architectural features.

All the windows will be refurbished or replaced as necessary, with necessary repairs undertaken for the masonry and architectural roof lantern.

Steven Jardine, Project Co-ordinator, said the old Post Office is one of the last projects to benefit from the Haverfordwest THI, which will end by April next year.

“Haverfordwest THI has provided grants of more than £1.5 million in the town since 2016, enabling more than £2 million worth of renovation work to take place to historic properties,” he said.

“The buildings refurbished during the two years include commercial properties at Castle Square, Victoria Terrace, High Street, Mariners Square, and now at Quay Street.”

Haverfordwest County Councillor Tom Tudor, whose ward includes Quay Street, said: “It’s wonderful to see the restoration work providing real regeneration action for Haverfordwest.”

Pictured inside the building are (left to right); Steven Jardine; Malcolm
Arnold, building director; Gitti Coats, founder and project coordinator;
Dan Payne Haverhelper and builder; Tom Symonds, events director,
Cllr Tom Tudor and Jerry Evans, owner and financial manager.

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