The manager of BP’s Cherry Point refinery says a fire earlier this month was most likely caused by equipment failure.
A failure in the “crude vacuum unit” led to the release of some heavier crude, which ignited when it came in contact with air.
Stacey McDaniel says the company is focusing on how the equipment failed and how to prevent it from happening in the future.
The refinery manager says the facility is mostly shut down and everyone is still focusing on the investigation.
The refinery can process 230,000 barrels of crude oil a day. It produces 20 percent of Washington’s gasoline and the majority of aviation fuel for the Vancouver, British Columbia, Sea-Tac and Portland airports.
State safety inspectors are investigating the cause of a dramatic blaze at Washington’s largest oil refinery Friday near Blaine, as BP launched its own review into why it happened.
The fire broke out in the sole crude processing unit at the BP Cherry Point refinery in northwest Washington, sending plumes of black smoke visible for miles. The fire was extinguished about an hour later, BP spokesman Scott Dean said. One person suffered a minor injury.
It was too early to know what caused the blaze, Dean said Saturday. Other units at the facility are on standby until the company completes an assessment and restart plan, which means the facility is currently not processing crude oil, he added.
“It’s too soon to speculate on a restart (date) or duration of the outage,” Dean said.
Another BP spokesman, William Kidd, said overall production could be halved in the next several days, but the effect on future production won’t be fully known until they know the extent of damage. The refinery still has finished product in tanks to produce gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, he said, adding: “It’s not like our tanks went dry.”
The 1-square-mile refinery employs more than 800 people and can process as much as 230,000 barrels of crude oil a day, mostly transportation fuels, from Alaska.
“Our top priority yesterday was getting the fire under control quickly and making sure no one got hurt,” Dean said. The next steps will be getting a crew safely into the location where the fire occurred, he said.
A BP report overnight to the National Response Center suggested a flange fire had started between the north vacuum heater and the north vacuum tower of the crude unit, but “that is not at all confirmed,” Kidd told the Bellingham Herald.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tested the air near the facility and at locations downwind and found no measurable threats from airborne pollutants related to the fire, according to spokesman Mark MacIntyre.
“No readings were found to be above background or demonstrate any level of concern,” Andy Smith, EPA’s federal on-scene coordinator, said in a statement Saturday.
Meanwhile, BP crews were working to secure the site where the fire occurred, so it may be a couple days before inspectors can do an initial walk-through, Department of Labor and Industries spokesman Hector Castro said.
State inspectors could begin interviewing employees as early as Tuesday, Castro said.
All 848 employees and contractors on site were accounted for early on during the fire, BP refinery manager Stacey McDaniel said in a statement. One contract employee was treated at the scene for a knee injury during the evacuation and was later released from a hospital.
According to the company website, the Cherry Point refinery supplies about 20 percent of Washington state’s gasoline, and the majority of the jet fuel used in Seattle, Vancouver and Portland, Ore., airports. The refinery has the ability to produce 2.5 million gallons of jet fuel, 3.5 million gallons of gasoline, 2.2 million gallons of diesel, 360,000 gallons of butane and 140,000 gallons of propane.
In 2010, the refinery was fined more than $69,000 for 13 serious safety violations, but those were not in the crude processing unit where the fire occurred, Castro said. He added that all five of the state’s refineries have been fined for safety regulations.
Earlier this month, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, as part of its earnings report, claimed over $150 million US in losses due to a fire at its massive Singapore refinery, which forced the firm to temporarily shutdown its biggest plant worldwide.
The closure of the 500,000 barrel per day refinery, which makes up more than a third of Singapore’s capacity, drove up benchmark fuel prices in the city-state, hub for Asian fuel trade.
After 12 years working for the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Cory Bowen doesn’t feel like he’s received the compensation he’s earned.
Bowen took the job at the Tesoro refinery because of the good benefits, which also have recently fallen on the chopping block. Every day at work, he said he breathes contaminated air and works long and erratic shifts.
Then, almost two years ago, his younger brother, Matt Bowen, was killed in an explosion while working a night shift at the refinery.
“We’ve given enough of our blood, sweat and tears for this place,” Cory Bowen, 41, said as he stood outside the front gate of the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes on Tuesday.
Bowen was one of about 50 workers and supporters rallying Tuesday for a better contract between Tesoro and the workers union, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12-591.
They were joined by their families and members of other local unions who came with signs and loudspeakers, protesting Tesoro’s plan to leave workers’ benefits, including pension, 401(k), vacation and healthcare, open to change over the next three years. The union also is seeking additional safety measures to help avoid catastrophic disasters.
“We haven’t done this in 25 years because we haven’t had to before now,” said local USW president Steve Garey on a megaphone, standing in the bed of a pickup truck.
Union members said that if the refinery does not negotiate in what the workers believe are fair terms, they could go on strike.
“A strike is our last resort,” said Galen Prescott, a staff representative for the local USW. “We want to avoid a labor dispute, but if all else fails, that’s where we’re headed.”
Tesoro was contacted for comment for this story, but did not respond Tuesday.
The USW and Royal Dutch Shell Plc., which negotiates for Tesoro and other oil companies, recently reached a national agreement on wage increases for workers over the next three years. However, USW members representing six of Tesoro’s U.S. refineries are bargaining at the local level to lock in workers’ benefits and plant safety measures specific to their workplaces.
Ty Oullette, financial secretary for the local chapter of the USW, said that workers lost a year of earned vacation last year as a result of negotiations. The company also reduced contributions to its employees’ 401(k) accounts.
Along with an improved and secure benefits package, protesters were seeking additional safety measures at the plant. Oullette said the USW seeks to add additional safety measures, including process safety standards, which would record unsafe operating conditions in machinery.
Oullette said that the refineries have been unwilling to negotiate on these safety measures.
For many of the workers, the company’s stance on safety precautions is a painful reminder of the deadly explosion in April 2010 that killed seven workers.
To honor the victims, a group of about 60 employees walked out to the rally on their lunch break, wearing their blue work clothes and smelling of oil and machinery. The protesters handed them flowers to place at a memorial constructed inside the refinery for the seven workers.
One of the men on his lunch break, Paul Gumbel, was working the night his son, Matthew Gumbel, 34, was fatally injured in the explosion. A tear fell from Paul Gumbel’s eye Tuesday as another worker handed him a carnation and gave him a hug.
“We’re caring for both the Matts today,” Bowen said to Gumbel.
Bowen said any change in medical benefits will affect his brother’s widow and young children.
“We’re fighting for them still, too,” he said.
Other workers protesting simply want the benefits they signed up for years ago.
Clay Price has been working at the refinery for 22 years. He worked the night shift Monday before returning to the rally Tuesday morning.
“They’re giving us their list of wants, but they’re not giving us anything in return,” he said. “The whole thing is kind of scary.”
Other members from the local Walmart and nurses’ union also were at the rally in support of the steelworkers.
“This employer should never negotiate safety,” said Julia Weinbern, a nurse at Skagit Valley Hospital and president of the local chapter of the Washington Nurses Association.
Two teenagers joined the crowd as their father, Ron Savage, worked inside the refinery. Jordan Savage, 13, said he likes that his father has a good-paying job, but is aware of the risk he takes every day to bring home a salary.
“I worry about him a lot,” Jordan said. “It’s a dangerous job.”
Authorities are investigating what caused a wind turbine to catch fire in Northern New York.
It happened Saturday night in Altona. Officials say people driving by the windfarm noticed the fire in one of the 400 foot turbines. Noble Environmental, the owner of the windfarm, says no one was injured. The cause of the fire is not known.
Two years ago a turbine at the same park came crashing down when the blades spun out-of-control in high winds. An investigation in that case uncovered a wiring problem that prevented the turbine from safely shutting down.
Wind speed at the time of Saturday night’s fire was reportedly around 25 miles per hour.
Noble Environmental Power is a renewable energy company with a 726-megawatt generation portfolio and approximately 1,800 megawatts of windparks under development throughout the United States.
Late in 2011, a gas turbine at a Shoreham National Grid facility caught fire before being brought under control by the Wading River Fire Department.
The likely “small oil fire” ignited, according to an official from National Grid. The gas turbine was located on the southeast corner of the property, opposite the site of the decommissioned Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, which was fully shuttered after public backlash against the facility in 1994.
National Grid spokesperson Wendy Ladd said the fire was extinguished in less than an hour, and did not result in any injuries or major damage.
The turbine, a “peaking turbine” unit, is normally used on very hot days, when the power authority’s system is taxed, to make up for the increased load. It was not related to National Grid’s natural gas operations, Ladd said.
She added that oil fires in the gas turbines are not a common occurrence, saying it was “pretty rare” to have one happen.
The Shoreham plant current has an output capacity of approximately 400MW.
The National Grid is the high-voltage electric power transmission network in Great Britain, connecting power stations and major substations and ensuring that electricity generated anywhere in England, Scotland and Wales can be used to satisfy demand elsewhere. There are also undersea interconnections to northern France (HVDC Cross-Channel), Northern Ireland (HVDC Moyle), the Isle of Man (Isle of Man to England Interconnector) and the Netherlands (BritNed).
On the breakup of the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1990, the ownership and operation of the National Grid in England and Wales passed to National Grid Company plc, later to become National Grid Transco, and now National Grid plc. In Scotland the grid is owned by Scottish Power and SSE.