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Repairs, maintenance and outages in the Americas

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The USA’s National Response Centre (NRC) has had a busy week with a number of incidents at refineries in the southern states. ConocoPhillips reported that approximately 32 lbs of benzene was released after a compressor outage and flaring at its site in Sweeny, Texas.  The company also had to shut a sulfur recovery unit in Westlake, Louisiana, after the discovery of a hydrogen sulfide leak. Frontier Oil Corp also reported flaring from its refinery in El Dorado, Kansas, after an equipment failure. Refineries in the US must notify the NRC if they release hazardous substances above certain quantities. A study on emissions reports in Louisiana by the United Steelworkers union and the environmentalist coalition the Louisiana Bucket Brigade reports that refineries in the state averaged 10 upsets a week between 2005 and 2009. The study reported that 27% of the excess emissions occurred during the onset of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav during the five year period.

Scheduled and unscheduled maintenance

Maintenance caused other halts in production elsewhere in the US for Valero Energy. The corporation shut a fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) for repairs at its refinery in Benicia, California after a power loss resulted in a failure one week earlier. The corporation has maintenance planned for its Houston refinery, Texas, and it has advised the residential community that the maintenance may result in flare usage, visible steam and noise.

Off the mainland, Hovensa LLC shut an FCC at its refinery in Saint Croix in the US Virgin Islands. The plant reported a release of steam containing a hydrocarbon mix. The refinery has been monitoring the air in the surrounding area after 15 students and staff members from a nearby school were checked at a hospital after exposure to the fumes. The school was closed for two days, though noone has been hospitalised. Donna Christensen, the Islands’ nonvoting delegate to Congress, expressed her concern for the health and safety of residents and workers at the refinery, and Governor John DeJongh has called for better evaluation of the refinery after local health authorities advised that people living near the refinery should avoid drinking water because of a possible contamination.

Production in South America

In South America, Venezuela has been severely affected by storms causing flooding and mudslides. Petroleos de Venezuela’s refinery at Cardon was affected at the end of November and knocked offline but is now operating at full capacity. Strikes at energy firms in Argentina may impact the supply to oil refineries, though energy firm YPF reassures that it has at least one week’s worth of stocks should the output halt continue.

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