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Refinery Tank Blast Kills 3 Painters

Monday, June 6, 2011

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UK authorities are investigating the deaths of three painters and another employee in a Chevron oil refinery explosion that also critically injured a fifth worker.

Police teams worked over the weekend to recover the bodies of three male painters who were performing maintenance work on a storage tank when the blast occurred about 6:20 p.m. local time (1:20 p.m. EDT) Thursday at the refinery in Pembroke Dock, south Wales.

A fourth employee, described as a woman on fire-watch duty, also perished in the explosion. A fifth worker, whose job was not immediately known, was in critical condition with severe burns at an area hospital.

 The Pembroke refinery
The Pembroke refinery has 140 storage tanks in six “tank farms” and employs 1,400 people. 

All of the victims were from Pembrokeshire county, and all were contractors, officials said. Neither the workers’ names nor their employer’s identity were immediately released.

The Pembrokeshire peninsula is home to many petrochemical and liquid natural gas industry facilities.

‘A Full Investigation’

The cause of the blast and subsequent fire—the U.K.’s worst refinery disaster since 1974—is not known.

Eyewitnesses reported hearing a “massive bang” and saw plumes of black smoke following the blast, the BBC reported.

Police and Britain’s Health and Safety Executive are investigating. (HSE is the UK’s occupational safety and health agency.) In addition, Chevron said it would dispatch some of its U.S.-based experts to help in the inquiry.

“The loss of our co-workers has come as a huge shock to us all,” refinery general manager Greg Hanggi said in a statement. “We will take every step possible to determine the series of events that led to this tragic incident and ensure that any lessons learnt from it will be integrated into the business and shared with our industry partners.”

P. Simon Hart, a local Member of Parliament who represents the area, said he had been “assured that a full investigation will be taking place.” He added: “We live alongside these industrial giants that provide so much work for the county, and few of us think of the risks that come with working there.”

‘Working in a Time Bomb’

Police worked over the weekend to remove the victims’ bodies—”a slow and methodical process,” they said, due to the nature of what officials called a “tragic industrial accident.”

Tony Spicer, 75, a former welder at the site, told a local newspaper that refinery work was like “working within a time-bomb—and at any time, something can go wrong.”

The refinery has more than 140 storage tanks in six so-called tank farms, according to Chevron. The tank that exploded did not contain crude, officials said, but no information was immediately available on what, if anything, it held at the time of the blast.

 The Pembrokeshire region

The Pembrokeshire region, on the Milford Haven Waterway, is home to many petrochemical and liquid natural gas plants.

The refinery reopened Friday, with most of its 1,400 employees back to work. Chevron said that the explosion would not disrupt the plant’s 210,000-barrel-a-day output and posed no risk to the public.

Police said any material released into the atmosphere was “immediately dispersed” by winds blowing offshore, away from residential areas.

Chevron Responds

Chevron said it was “hugely saddened” by the workers’ death. “Pembroke Refinery is a very close family, and this tragedy has been a great shock to everyone,” the company said in a statement.

Diesel, gasoline and jet fuels from the Pembroke refinery are distributed on the U.S. East Coast and in Britain. The refinery turns out 3.5 million gallons, or more than 13 million liters, of gasoline a day, according to Chevron.

Chevron is in the process of selling the Pembroke refinery to Valero Energy Corp., the largest U.S. crude refiner. The sale is expected to close by Sept. 30.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Contractors; Explosions; Fatalities; Health and safety; Maintenance coating work; Petrochemical Plants; Tanks and vessels

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