Biomass Plant Explosion Injures 2

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Two  workers are being treated for serious injuries following an accident at the biomass plant in Sacul, Texas.

According to Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Kim Barton, two patients are in critical condition and they will be taken by ambulance to a burn unit.

Sheriff Thomas Kerss said the workers were working on a 444-volt electrical panel when it arced. An on-site safety crew did emergency treatment until an ambulance arrived.

Southern Power spokeswoman Stephanie Kirijan confirmed two Fagen construction workers were injured and all Fagen and Southern Power employees have been moved to a safe location. She said the plant will be closed for the rest of the day.

In October 2009, Southern Company purchased the project from American Renewables. The project has been under construction since November 2009 and will be operational in mid 2012. Southern Company expects to employ approximately 38 full-time employees once the plant is constructed. Currently there are approximately 1,000 workers onsite.

Once the facility is fully operational, it will produce 100 megawatts of electricity and use 1.1 million tons of wood waste per year. The vast majority of the wood will come from within a 75-mile radius of the plant.

Southern Power is among the largest wholesale energy providers in the Southeast, meeting the electricity needs of municipalities, electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities. The company owns and operates more than 7,500 megawatts of power generation capability, with facilities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and New Mexico and is constructing an additional 820 megawatts of generation in North Carolina and Texas.

Nigeria Rig Fire Update

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Chevron Corp. doesn’t expect to put out a fire that started last month at its offshore Funiwa field in Nigeria within the next 30 days, Radio Nigeria reported.

A Transocean Ltd. rig being brought in to drill a relief well to tackle the fire will arrive in three to four days, Andrew Fawthrop, chief executive officer of the company’s Nigerian unit, told the state-owned service. Drilling the well will take about 30 days, he said.

The blaze began in the middle of January while Chevron was drilling a gas-exploration well at Funiwa, about six miles (9.6 kilometers) from the coast. The fire forced the company to cut output of about 2,000 barrels a day at its North Apoi platform.

Chevron has been slow to put out the fire, which has caused spills in fishing areas of Koluama in the southern Bayelsa state, said Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action, the Nigerian affiliate of Friends of the Earth.

“For everyday that the gas keeps burning, the leakage is polluting the environment and affecting the lives of thousands who rely on the ocean for their livelihood,” he said today by phone from Lagos. Two workers went missing in the Funiwa accident.

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer and the fifth- biggest source of U.S. oil imports. Chevron, the third-largest producer in Nigeria, operates a joint venture in which it holds 40 percent and the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. owns 60 percent.

Pasadena Refinery Fire Update

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A spokesperson for Pasadena Refining System has issued an updated statement on the fire at their Houston-area refinery in December that injured one:

“Pasadena Refining (PRSI) reports that the fire which broke out at approximately 7:00 p.m. Saturday, December 10, 2011 at the coker unit was extinguished a few hours later. The cause of this fire is still under investigation, but a company spokesperson commented that it may have been caused by sludge that collected at the bottom of a tank and caught fire.

All personel  were accounted for and the non-essential personnel safely evacuated the facility as a precautionary measure. One minor injury was reported. The employee was evaluated and released after being transferred to a local hospital. PRSI has responded with the emergency response team and no other process unit at the refinery was impacted by the fire. All units are operating at planned rate without any operational constraints.

The 100,000-barrels-a-day refinery had resumed normal operating rates in early November following a crude unit fire on September 30.

Pasadena Refining Systems Inc. is operated by Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PBR, PETR4.BR), or Petrobras.

Wind Turbine Fire Impact

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Despite all that has been written about wind power, a vitally important issue has barely been mentioned. When turbines fail, blades may fall to the ground or send fragments that land up to a mile away. Turbines often catch fire, and when they do they often send flaming shards into fields and forests.

Official information on the number and severity of turbine-induced forest fires remains largely secret and unavailable. Nonetheless, there are scattered media reports and one thorough description of the safety record of the Caithness USA Wind corporation with installations in the northwest. That one corporation experienced 110 serious wind turbine fires over a 20 year period, but there is no mention of whether some of those fires may have spread to adjacent areas.

Similarly, media references to 43 turbine fires, mostly in the U.S. and Europe, merely state “no details.” Many references do contain brief statements, such as that 22 fires were caused by lightning strikes, but again, no references to those fires spreading far from the sites. Only 25 of the reports mention that turbine fires had spread to fields and forests.

In California, one such fire burned 68 acres, another 220 acres, and in Palm Springs several “spot fires” had been generated in surrounding areas. In Hawaii, 95 acres were burned. Australia lost 80,000 acres of forests located mostly in a national park. Spain lost nearly 200 acres from one fire. A comment on a German fire mentioned that “burning debris” from a turbine had traveled several hundred meters from the site. In Holland, three burning blades from a mere 270-foot tower cast a 50-foot flaming shard 220 feet from the site.

The most dramatic report emanated from Wales where “great balls of fire” landed more than 150 yards away, causing a hillside to burn. Fearing more forest fires, an Australian province enacted a law banning placements of wind towers near wooded areas. Yet, in heavily forested Maine, all of our wind power sites have been approved without even considering that turbines have often caused forest fires.

It requires little imagination to foresee that 400-foot blazing turbines, located in the most heavily winded areas along steep mountain slopes, could easily shoot flaming debris into wooded areas.

Mere fire engines cannot douse turbine fires. In every report, firefighters had to allow the turbine fires to burn themselves out. All they could hope to do was prevent the fires from spreading to other areas. In Australia, California and Germany, massive firefighting equipment evidently came from nearby areas.

That 220-acre California fire had been contained by 45 firefighters, two helicopters and two bulldozers. The 69-acre fire was contained with the help of 15 fire engines, four hand crews and four planes. A 5-acre California fire was extinguished by six fire engines, three water trucks, two helicopters, two tanker planes, a bulldozer and three hand crews.

Forest fires present a credible risk and one more reason why our permitting agencies should require fire protection for wind turbine sites in wooded areas and high risk brush fire zones.

Update on Azerbaijan Gas Deal

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A deal between Azerbaijan and Turkey for a natural gas pipeline could be the break the planned Nabucco pipeline needs, a spokeswoman said.

Officials from Azerbaijan and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding this week for construction of the Trans-Anatolia pipeline. Estimated at around $9 billion, that project could deliver around 560 billion cubic feet of natural gas to the eurozone border.

The development comes as Azerbaijan and partners at the BP-led consortium developing the Shah Deniz field in the Caspian Sea examine pipeline projects included in the so-called Southern Corridor.

Barbara Minderjahn, a spokeswoman for Nabucco shareholder and German energy company RWE, told Bloomberg News the deal between Ankara and Baku is good for the planned natural gas project.

“We believe that this a possible step to implement the Nabucco concept,” she said.

Critics of Nabucco claim it’s too ambitious and lacks agreements from potential natural gas suppliers. Iran, which in mid-December claimed it discovered a Caspian field holding as much as 50 trillion cubic feet of gas, had expressed interest in Nabucco.

Tehran’s involvement is unlikely given Western opposition, however.

Meanwhile, Russian energy company Gazprom said it was ready to increase dramatically the amount of natural gas it secured from Azerbaijan next year.

The projects included in the Southern Corridor are meant to ease Russia’s grip on the European energy sector. Azerbaijan is expected to make a decision on European gas projects by early 2012.

Findings on BP Valhall Fire Released

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BP has been ordered to take immediate steps to address a number of “serious breaches” of regulations in connection with a fire on its Valhall platform last year.

The Petroleum Safety Authority said the July 13 fire involved the breakdown of a crane engine due to overheating, which led to a fire in the vent stack of the platform’s compressors. The blaze led to production at the 40,000 barrel a day field shutting down for more than two months.

“Overheating combined with a defective spark arrestor and silencer meant that red-hot particles leaving the exhaust pipe blew across and ignited flammable gases from the vent stack,” the regulator said in a statement.

No people were injured in the incident, although the safety body said that under slightly different circumstances it could have escalated and led to the loss of life.

The findings once again put the U.K. energy giant’s record under the spotlight nearly two years after a rig leased by BP exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and leading to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. That incident followed a blast at its Texas City Refinery in 2005 that resulted in the deaths of 15 workers. Chief Executive Bob Dudley has sought to put safety at the core of the company’s operations since then, but incidents like Valhall risk undermining claims that BP is indeed implementing higher standards.

“The PSA’s investigation of the incident has identified a number of serious breaches of the regulations related to BP’s management system,” the agency said. “These relate to lack of maintenance, deficient maintenance management, inadequacies in risk identification and deficient barrier management.”

BP has been given until Feb. 1 to provide a plan for addressing the faults on the installation identified by the PSA, with work to be completed by July 1. However, the regulator doesn’t intend to recommend the matter for police investigation, said PSA spokesman Oyvind Midttun. The company would only be liable for sanctions or fines if the PSA passed the case on to Norway’s judicial authorities.

New York-based Hess  is the majority owner of Valhall, with a 64 percent stake. BP operates the field and owns the remaining stake.

The production platform is one of five in a complex serving the oil field, which is located about 290 km (180 miles) off southern Norway.

Valhall’s oil production is piped to the offshore Ekofisk Centre and then on to Teesside, England. Natural gas from the platform is transported by pipeline to Emden, Germany.

Fire at Waterford Power Plant

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An oil fire at the Waterford I power plant sent thick smoke into the air Sunday morning but was extinguished after about an hour and posed no danger to residents, officials said.The fire reportedly broke out around 8:30 a.m. at the Waterford I power plant in St. Charles Parish. About 9:50 a.m., parish officials reported that the fire had been extinguished.

Philip Allison, a spokesman for Entergy Louisiana, said the Waterford I plant is a fossil fuel plant and does not produce nuclear power, unlike the nearby Waterford III plant.  That facility was not affected, fortunately.

Entergy, the plant’s owner, said there were no reports of any injuries.

Operations Resume at Isogo

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Electric Power Development Co. today resumed partial operations at its Isogo thermal power plant in Kanagawa prefecture, near Tokyo.

The company, also known as J-Power, halted the plant after a fire on Nov. 24, according to a statement on its website today. The closure fire started on a conveyor belt. The fire, then spread to a coal-crushing facility and silos, was put out at 3:38 p.m., said Shigeru Hirayama, an official at the Isogo Fire Department. The blaze was contained using 42 fire trucks, two helicopters and one boat. Nobody was injured, he said.

The 1,200-megawatt station was offline for nearly 2 months, resulting in a substantial loss in revenue for J-Power, a wholesale power generation company which distributes power to 10 utilities across Japan.