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Investigators to begin hunt for cause of Texas petrochemical disaster

April 11/2019

MOSCOW (MRC) -- US investigators hope for the first time to enter the site of a massive fuel fire and chemical spill outside Houston to begin the hunt for a cause and to determine whether the operator followed safety regulations, as per Hydrocarbonprocessing.

The blaze, at Mitsui & Cos Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) storage facility in Deer Park, Texas, began March 17 and released toxic chemicals into the air and nearby waterways. Shipping along the largest oil port in the United States remained disrupted on Monday, as did operations at two nearby refineries.

Fumes from benzene-containing fuel and fear of another fire have prevented investigators from going into the tank farms "hot zone," officials said last Monday. Three tanks holding oils remain to be emptied this week, and responders continue to sop up fuels on the tank farm grounds.

Investigators from the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as state and local authorities, plan to enter the site once it is safe.

Access to the site, along the Houston Ship Channel, will help determine what happened and how a fire at one tank holding tens of thousands of barrels of naphtha spread quickly to 10 other giant tanks.

"The escalation of the event, looking at how the fire spread from a single tank to others in the tank battery, is certainly something were interested in," said CSB lead investigator Mark Wingard, who arrived in Houston in late March.

Before CSB investigators enter the site, possibly later this week, they will focus on interviewing ITC personnel and witnesses of the fire, and collecting documentation on the facility and its tanks. The CSBs investigation will also examine the "outside impacts" of the fires, Wingard said.

"Theres huge public interest in this case," he said. "People in this community want to know what happened and what they were exposed to."

Access also could provide officials with information critical to state and local lawsuits accusing the company of improperly releasing tons of volatile organic compounds into the surrounding air and water.

"We need to get to what was the root cause of this event and then begin to understand any aspect of negligence or obstruction that led to the event," Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said in an interview.

In late March, the county filed a lawsuit against ITC seeking to recoup the costs of emergency responders and healthcare clinics set up in response to pollution from the fire. The county has not yet estimated the cost, which Garcia said is "going to be very significant."

An ITC spokeswoman declined to comment, citing pending litigation. In the past, a company official said ITC responded immediately to the fire and had no lack of resources to put out the fire.

Asked how long it would take for investigators to get onto the grounds, ITC Senior Vice President Brent Weber said he hoped it would be days not weeks. "They have been on the site," Weber said last Monday. "Theyre staying out of the hot zone right now."

Fumes and clean-up efforts continued to affect shipping for a third week. Twenty-two cargo vessels were able to transit the area near the ITC tank farm on Sunday, the Coast Guard said, between 40 percent and 50 percent of normal.

Another 64 were in a queue waiting to pass last Monday. In total, 118 ships were anchored outside the port, said US Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Derby Flory.

As MRC informed before, Mitsui Chemicals took its naphtha-fed steam cracker off-stream for a maintenance turnaround in mid-June 2018. It remained under maintenance until end-July 2018. Located in Sakai, Japan, the cracker has an ethylene production capacity of 500,000 mt/year and propylene production capacity of 280,000 mt/year.


mrcplast.com
Author:Margaret Volkova
Tags:crude and gaz condensate, propylene, ethylene, petrochemistry, Mitsui, USA, Japan.
Category:General News
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