Refinery loses half of capacity
Local residents were startled when an explosion at the 1,000 acre Valero St. Charles Refinery shook up homes for miles Saturday night around 11:30 p.m. The fire and explosion shot into the air from a unit that is used to produce diesel fuel causing flames to shoot more than 100 feet. According local residents, flames could be seen for miles but the fire was quickly detained by safety officials at Valero.
There were no reported injuries and no damage outside the refinery. The cause of the explosion has not yet been determined. The explosion occurred in a unit that uses hydrogen to remove sulfur from diesel fuel.
No evacuations were called. According to Tab Troxler of St. Charles Emergency Preparedness Center (EOC), calls from residents started streaming in around 11:45 with reports of a very loud noise and shaking.
The EOC immediately went into action arranging transportation in the event that an evacuation was called. “This event was a lot of work for the parish, but in the end we were relieved that there were no serious long lasting effects from the explosion,” said Troxler.
Valero refines over 260,000 barrels of oil per day into gasoline diesel, jet fuel and other products. It is the largest refinery company in North America. There were 80 workers at the site Saturday evening which is significantly less that the 800 during the day.
According to Valero officials, clean-up is underway. “The damage is limited to one area. Half the plant is still in operation. The effected unit should be up and running by next week,” said Ron Guillory, Director of Human Resources and Public Relations for Valero Refinery of St Charles. Half the refinery’s processing capacity is offline, because other units are linked to the plant’s control systems. “As for what caused the explosion, an investigation is still underway,” said Guillory.
Guillory went on to say, “This event is being closely monitored by the Occupational and Safety Health Administration and the Chemical Safety Board. Safety is our first priority and we are taking the steps necessary to prevent another incident of this kind in the future.”
“It was very loud,” said Norco resident Anne Schexnaydre. “The force of the explosion blew our attic fan open. Within minutes of the explosion, residents lined the streets wondering what had happened. The flames were visible above the oak trees, they were that high,” said Schexnaydre.
Schexnaydre went on to say, “Shell is very active in the community. They have focus groups that meet to discuss safety issues and answer questions from residents. In the event that something is set to happen at the plant such as shutting down a unit, noise, or elevated flaring, they put flyers on our doors to notify residents so that we feel safe and knowledgeable about the refinery’s functions. Valero has never done any of this at my home, no flyers, no meetings, not prior to the explosion or after.”
“Our neighboring community is New Sarpy, although we have had contact on several occasions with Norco residents. Valero has an advisory committee that is composed of residents, school officials and parish government officials that meet on a regular basis. In the event that something significant were to take place, we do notify citizens,” explained Guillory.