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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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Haverfordwest: HaverHub targeted by vandals

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Trashed: Vandals, believed to be children, have targeted HaverHub

POLICE are investigating after thieves broke into HaverHub community centre and stole alcohol and a net full of plastic ducks.

The first incident occurred on Friday evening (Aug 17) or early Saturday morning (Aug 18) when a side door was smashed in.

Within hours, vandals had returned and went about trashing the place and stole 26 bottles of Prosecco.

In a post on social media, HaverHub said: “The first [incident] saw our side door kicked in, and the second occurred when some opportunistic kids came in through the unsecured door.

“They’ve smashed a window, emptied two fire extinguishers everywhere, helped themselves to our supplies and generally made a big mess. They’ve also stolen 26 bottles of Prosecco, and a net full of plastic ducks from the duck race.”

HaverHub project coordinator and founder Gitti Coats told the Herald: “One of the team came to secure the broken door and make it safe and as he arrived three girls and three boys of about 12-years-old ran from the building with a seventh child locked inside.

“If any parents see their child with cuts from broken glass or with yellow plastic ducks, please get in touch,” she added.

The former Post Office building in Quay Street was taken over by the non-profit social enterprise in August last year aiming to provide a new focal point for the community.

HaverHub has appealed for anyone with information to contact Dyfed-Powys Police directly by calling 101.

A JustGiving page has been set up where donations to support the project can be made: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/haverhub-clear-up and you can find out more on the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/4haverchange

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Woman injured in Castlemartin cliff fall

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A WOMAN suffered injuries after falling when climbing at Linney Head near Castlemartin.

Coastguards were called after the fall near Linney Head at about 4pm last Friday (Aug 17).

Tenby Coastguard Rescue team were paged to assist St Govan Coastguard Rescue team in a rescue operation which lasted two-and-a-half hours.

The area needed to be assessed for a suitable helicopter landing site to enable Coastguard Rescue helicopter 187 to land on site.

The casualty suffered leg injuries and was airlifted from the cliff and flown to Withybush hospital, where she continues to receive further treatment.

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Haverfordwest: Your Health, Your Wealth event returns

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HAVERFORDWEST will be the location for the second Your Health, Your Wealth money advice and wellbeing event to be held in Pembrokeshire on Friday, September 7.

More than a dozen local and national organisations have already signed up to take part in the pop-up advice shop at Unit 5, Riverside Shopping Centre between 10.30am and 1pm.

Attendees will receive the latest information on how to save money, manage changing welfare payments and pick up tips on how to stay fit and well as the winter approaches.

The event will run alongside the first Farmer’s Market of September in the town centre. Everyone attending will receive an official event booklet detailing money saving tips, healthy living ideas and essential contact information for local organisations, and be entered into a prize draw.

Eluned Morgan AM said: “Low unemployment rates don’t necessarily signal a strong economy. The reality is that finances are still tight for thousands of families in Pembrokeshire. Household incomes are under pressure as the cost of living and heating our homes continues to rise.

“That is why setting up this pop up, one-stop advice shop with local organisations who can offer the very best advice on how to live well. The Citizens Advice Bureau, Age Cymru, PAVS Community Connectors, Pembrokeshire Trading Standards, Macmillan Cancer Support, the DPJ Foundation and many others will be there.”

Pembrokeshire people in and out of work who are in receipt of benefits will be able to apply for Universal Credit soon, including self-employed people or those considering self-employment.

The Department of Work and Pensions have also been invited to attend to explain how benefit changes will affect local residents with Universal Credit set to roll out from September 5.

Eluned continued: “For many people, especially those on lower incomes, the changing benefits system and the increasing cost of living is making life much more stressful and that isn’t good for our health. I’ve recently met with Martin Lewis, the money saving expert, who agrees that not enough is being done to help people manage their money, and is concerned about the impact on peoples mental health. This is why I’ve been so keen to organise these events right across the region.”

Eluned Morgan will be holding an advice surgery during the event, where local residents can talk to her about a particular issue in their community or ask a question about the role of the National Assembly for Wales.

A full list of the organisations taking part can be found on Eluned Morgan’s Facebook Page – www.facebook.com/ElunedMorganAM

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