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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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Broad Haven South welcomes Sky’s Britannia film crew

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FILM CREWS for Sky Atlantic have been recreating Roman Britain on Broad Haven South, for the next series of the hit show ‘Britannia’.

Gareth Davies of Hidden Pembrokeshire Photography took pictures of the set being raised over the weekend, with their Facebook page saying: “Film set is under construction on Broad Haven South Beach. Awesome to see that Pembrokeshire will feature in the second season of ‘Britannia’.

“The Roman Village on Broad Haven South Beach is really starting to take shape, looking forward to seeing the cast arrive in full costume, it should be quite a sight.”

Britannia is a British-American historical fantasy series co-produced by Sky and Amazon Prime Video, starring Kelly Reilly, David Morrissey, Zoë Wanamaker, Liana Cornell and Stanley Weber. It is written by Jez Butterworth, the award-winning playwright and director.

The first series aired on Sky Atlantic in the UK, and was a fictionalised and stylised take on the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD, as the General Aulus Plautius led four legions against the Celtic tribes of the isles.

The filming of series 1 of ‘Britannia’ was split between the Czech Republic and Wales, with locations such as Rhossili Bay in the Gower, Nash Point outside of Cardiff, and Henrhyd Falls, Llyn y Fan Fach and Cwm Porth of the Brecon Beacons National Park featuring.


This is not the first time the Pembrokeshire coast has been used by film crews, be it television or movies. Freshwater West saw the construction of Shell Cottage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as well as the battle scenes featured in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. Battles were also filmed at Marloes Sands for Snow White and the Huntsman in 2012.

Last year, St Catherine’s Island in Tenby was depicted as the prison ‘Sherrinford’ for the series 4 finale of the BBC’s Sherlock.

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New fitness instructor proving to be ‘an inspiration’

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Tina Mathias (centre): Teaching an aerobics class at County Hall as part of Mental Health Week

A NEWLY qualified fitness instructor is proving an inspiration to her class.

Pembrokeshire County Council employee Tina Mathias took her first indoor cycling and aerobics sessions recently and few of her students would have realised it capped a meteoric transformation in her life.

Gone is the unfit and overweight woman who could barely muster the energy to exercise; today, Tina is a dynamic and motivating lady with a fabulous story to tell.

Indoor cycling, or spinning as it is more widely known is one of the most popular exercise classes throughout Pembrokeshire’s seven leisure centres but Tina’s first experience of it wasn’t quite as pleasurable as it is now.

It lasted ten seconds before she walked out vowing to go back when she was fit enough to do so.

Before: Tina before her weight loss journey

When she returned twelve months later, the instructor didn’t recognise her. Tina was half the woman she was having overcome health scares and heartbreak to lose 12 stone.

“I spent most of my life overweight and gained more weight after my father died,” she said.

“I was comfort eating; drinking upwards of three bottles of wine a night.

“I put on a stone over the weekend of my mother’s birthday celebrations. It was getting out of hand.

“That was it. I felt awful and was ready to change my life.”

After a very frank and honest talk with a very close friend, who basically told Tina she needed to sort her life out, she then, three days later started her healthy lifestyle and she was on her path.

A self-confessed ‘all or nothing type of person’ Tina met the challenge head-on.

She cut out alcohol, limited her calorie intake, began an exercise regime and the weight soon fell off. Nothing could hold her back, not even an illness that left her housebound for six months unable to exercise

“Physically it was quite tough but mentally it wasn’t,” Tina added.

“I returned to the gym after my illness in 2012 and gradually increased what I was doing”.

“I started spin classes and loved it straight away. Then I tried other things such as circuits, weight training and with the encouragement of Jane Richards at Fishguard Leisure centre, I tried their Go-Tri triathlon series”.

“I haven’t looked back since.”

Despite trying numerous activities Tina enjoyed spin classes and weight training the most.

From going to spin once or twice a week, it soon increased to six and became apparent she had what it takes to become an instructor.

“I spoke with the instructors who encouraged me to go for it. I had to attend a few training sessions before undertaking an exam.

“I was the only one taking it that didn’t work in a gym but I obviously did enough to pass. In fact, the examiner, who was six months pregnant, enjoyed my session so much she wanted to join in!

“Hearing that was a huge confidence booster, to know that I could do it and do it well.

“I just can’t wait to teach more classes now.”

Pembrokeshire County Council Leisure Services Officer Gary Nicholas believes Tina is an inspiration.

“Health and wellbeing, whilst can be challenging, should be about fun and enjoyment and I have little doubt that Tina will play a key role over the years to come,” he said.

“Tina’s journey has been truly phenomenal and it fully demonstrates what can be achieved if you put your mind to something.

“Tina is the type of role model that we value at Pembrokeshire Leisure and we hope that she will be able to inspire others as she joins our team of dedicated instructors.”

Tina’s tip for weight loss:

  • Do it for you and nobody else
  • Always focus on the end goal
  • Write a note of what you eat. Losing weight is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise
  • Don’t be afraid. No-one will judge you in the gym because we’re all in it for the same reason
  • Enjoy it.
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Consultation on Public Rights of Way plan launched

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A JOINT public consultation between Pembrokeshire County Council and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority has been launched to review the Public Rights of Way Improvement plan.

The statutory plan is under review to ensure the Authorities continue to identify, plan and prioritise improvements to their path networks effectively.

“Public Rights of Way play an important role in Pembrokeshire,” said Cabinet Member for Planning and Infrastructure Councillor Phil Baker.

“They connect rural and urban areas and we maintain routes totalling around 2,350km in the county.

“The consultation provides an opportunity for members of the public, Community Councils and other groups to present their views on how the rights of way network in Pembrokeshire should be managed over the next ten years and I would urge them to have their say,” he added.

Members of the public can read the consultation document and give their views on the proposals by going online at www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/haveyoursay or by requesting a copy of the consultation document from the Council’s Contact Centre on 01437 764551

The deadline for comments is Friday, August 3.

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