April 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm #1892
Valero refinery in Chalmette releasing sulfur dioxide after 1 a.m. lightning strike
Published: Tuesday, April 03, 2012, 4:25 PM Updated: Wednesday, April 04, 2012, 12:45 PM
By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune
Valero’s St. Bernard Parish refinery in Chalmette had a sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide release that occurred from a lightning strike that hit its refinery about 1 a.m. this morning. The strike caused a power surge and subsequent electrical shortage of its “hydrocracker unit” that removes sulfur from fuel.
The leak reportedly was secured about 3:37 p.m. this afternoon.
When the hydrocracker unit shuts down, all releases are sent to the refinery’s flares, “as a safety measure,” according to Bill Day, Valero’s executive director of media relations based in San Antonio.
After the flares successfully burned off most of the chemicals, the offsite release was reportedly minimal, at about 12 parts per billion of sulfur dioxide, according to Peter Ricca, emergency response manager for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Ricca said such a release would not involve health issues, only “quality of life” such as a bad smell that could possibly cause headaches.
At its height about 750 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 40 pounds of hydrogen sulfide per hour was going into the flares, according to St. Bernard Fire Chief Thomas Stone.
Ricca said that by this afternoon that had dropped to 150 pounds of sulfur dioxide per hour and “we would expect that to continue to drop now that the leak is secured.” The Valero refinery is only permitted to release about 98 pounds of sulfur dioxide per hour into flares, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consent decree from 2010.
Day said that after today no additional flaring is expected.
Trooper Nick Manale, a State Police spokesman, said this afternoon that there were no road closures or evacuations. Manale said State Police hazmat investigators have been monitoring the leak throughout the day. Ricca said DEQ emergency responders have been on site since they learned about the release at about 12 p.m. today.
The DEQ will receive a more in-depth report from Valero within seven calendar days.
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