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​Refinery tight lipped following burn-off concerns

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VALERO has refused to explain why their flare stacks at the Pembroke Oil Refinery were worryingly large on Friday night (Nov 16).

The Pembrokeshire Herald received several messages and photographs of the unprecedented burn-off from readers and concerned locals via social media and email.

An unconfirmed source at the refinery told this newspaper that there had been a problem with the alkylation de-isobutanizer – it ‘fell over’ our source said.

Alkylation is the process of producing gasoline range material such as propylene and butylene with isobutene – in the presence of a highly acidic catalyst, either sulphuric acid or hydrofluoric acid.

When asked to confirm the emergency burn off took place, and when asked if there was a serious malfunction, Stephen Thornton, Public Affairs Manager told us: “It is company policy not to comment on operations.”

When asked if he could deny that the incident occurred he again declined to comment.

A refinery expert told us: “The towers which have a constant burning flame is called a flare stack. In very simple terms, it is just like the burner of a gas stove with a controlled burning of natural gas through its pilot burners. It is the last line of safety or defence for refineries, petrochemical and gas processing plants.”

The expert went on: “The flare system consists of the flare stack and a flare header. A very large network of pipes coming from the different processes feed into the header. Whenever there is an upset or an emergency situation, all the extremely flammable hydrocarbons need to be vented out.

“But these cannot be just put in the atmosphere like the steam from our food pressure cookers. A vapour cloud would be extremely hazardous and catastrophic. To ensure that these escaping gases get burned to Carbon dioxide and water vapour, a flame is always kept burning on the top.

“Refinery operators generally see this as a necessary evil.

“The location of a fire stack is also very important. It is located far away from the main processing complex in the downwind direction.”

In April this newspaper reported that a potentially ‘catastrophic incident’ took place at Valero’s Pembroke Oil Refinery last year involving leaking gas and an ignition source

As previously reported, we were contacted earlier this year by a number of workers at the site who 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 30 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 oil refinery’s management told us at the time 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.

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 on-going.”

Education

Styling their way to the top

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(Left to right) Level 2 - Festival theme - work by Holly Mathias and Celebration of Colour - Level 2 and 3 – work by Leah Rees

FOUR hairdressing learners: Holly Mathias, Jenna Kilgallon, Helaina Thomas and Leah Rees, recently earned themselves a place in the next stage of the Concept Hair Magazine Learner of the Year Competition.

The candidates were invited into the College to show their fully presented entries as evidence and then submitted them remotely to the Concept Hair Magazine judges in December.

The categories for the competition were: Festival Hair, Red Carpet, Old School Barbershop, Celebration of Colour and Safari.

The unique styles allowed the learners to show off their creative hair styling skills from plaits to updos, to bold colour creations.

Charlotte Jones, Hairdressing lecturer was over the moon with the learners’ success; “We were all so impressed with the creativity, dedication and enthusiasm of all the students who took part in the competition. Also, the students who supported the entries during the day and the models who gave up their time to be involved. They should all be very proud of what they have achieved. The results were amazing!”

The students worked to COVID regulations ensuring all the correct PPE and procedures were followed.

Finalist, Holly Mathias entered three categories which included; Styling Level 2 – Festival Theme, Hair Up Level 2 – Red Carpet and Avant Garde – Safari.

Holly shared her experience; “Taking part in the Concept Hair competition, has really boosted my confidence and proved that hard work really does pay off. The support from the staff at Pembrokeshire College is outstanding. I would recommend everyone to take part in this competition as not only is it an amazing experience, but it really allows you to think outside the box and be as creative as you can! I would 100% take part in this competition again.”

Holly plans to go into full-time employment when she completes her course and hopes to one day work on cruise ships or even own her own salon.

The next stage involves the candidates submitting photographic entries on the 12th March where six will be shortlisted for the national finals which is set to take place virtually in April.

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Community

Environmental projects supported by Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund

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PROJECTS involving worm composting, community planting and solar panels were just some of the projects that recently received support from the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund.

More than £140,000 was awarded to eight projects at the committee’s January meeting with the next deadline for applications set for 12 noon on 23 March.

Clynfyw Care Farm was successful with an application for a vermicomposting project, which will create a quality rich sustainable compost that can be used to improve soil conditions organically. This will support local vegetable producers and sequestrate carbon in the process.

The Newport Area Environment Group will receive funding to lead a community planting project promoting decarbonisation through biodiversity.

Cwm Arian Renewable Energy secured financial support to research a Pembrokeshire-wide Energy Efficiency program, with the aim of reducing energy use and tackling fuel poverty by increasing and normalising the uptake of low carbon life choices.

Funding for photovoltaic (PV) panels was agreed for projects submitted by Herbrandston Sports and Recreation Association, South Ridgeway Community Association, Neuadd Gymuned Bwlchygroes Community Hall, Ramsey Island Nature resort and Visitor Centre, and Crymych Rugby club, who all received funding to help harness solar energy.

Directors from Clynfyw Care Farm said: “Thanks to funding from SDF, this worm composting project will be a useful tool for engaging with people, reducing CO2 and teaching a simple sustainable process with important stages in a safe, supported environment. Once established, vermicompost will be available for purchase in local outlets, providing an environmentally-friendly alternative for local growers.”

Applications for funding are encouraged from not for profit groups, including village halls, community councils and environmental groups in the county who have a project that will contribute towards a reduction in carbon and help respond to the climate emergency.

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News

Council: Despite a rise Pembrokeshire still has lowest council tax in Wales

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCILLORS have voted to back a recommendation of a 3.75 percent increase in Council Tax for the coming year.

The increase equates to an extra 82p per week for Band D properties.

Pembrokeshire will still have the lowest Council Tax in Wales with Pembrokeshire Band D Council Tax payers paying £214.11, or £4.11 per week, less than the average across the country.

Cllr Bob Kilmister, the Cabinet Member for Finance, said the increase had been reduced from a proposed 5 per cent to 3.75 per cent to reduce the impact on Council Tax payers.

Introducing the budget to members, Cllr Kilmister said to go for a figure below 3.75 per cent would inevitably lead to much higher rises in future years.

Falling below 3.75 per cent would also lead to cuts in Council services, Cllr Kilmister said.

He added: “A reduction in services and staff numbers will affect the poorest in our communities the most. I believe we have a duty to these people.”

Councillors also voted for Council house rents to be increased by 1.5% for the coming year plus increases of up to 50p per week where properties are not at target rent levels.

The votes were taken at the full meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council held on Thursday, March 4.

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