Hurricane Season: Refineries Prepare

Guest blog post by LABB Intern Callie Casstevens

The beginning of hurricane season starts June 1st, this is a season that involves heavy rains and strong winds. Yet, the Murphy Oil facility in St. Bernard has illustrated their lack of preparation for such annual weather activity that is so typical for Louisiana. The state of Louisiana has four out of the ten rainiest cities in the entire United States, yet, the refinery seem ill equipped to handle such foreseeable weather. The unanimous call by the residents of Louisiana is regulate, regulate, regulate!

A major cause of concern is that most refinery accidents in Louisiana, occurred during hurricanes and released significantly more pollution than other weather related accidents. Hurricane related accidents are responsible for 75% (2,667,163lbs) of all weather related air pollution and 84% (11,909,692 gallons) of water pollution. These accidents are more likely to involve very serious complications that could be prevented.

The crisis in the Gulf is a wakeup call for stronger federal regulations and oversight, in order to prevent what happened in the Gulf from happening on land. However, Louisiana is no stranger to oil spills, in fact the Murphy Oil facility spilled over one million gallons of oil into the surrounding community as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Further, on August 31, 2008, prior to Hurricane Gustav’s landfall, the Chalmette Refining facility in St. Bernard Parish had an accident caused by their limited wastewater capacity and as a result, the refinery dumped 11,655,000 gallons of wastewater into Lake Borgne.

Murphy Oil has stated that “Weather is not a predictable event.” Yet, weather forecast technology includes dopplar radar, five to ten day forecast, as well as satellite future forecast to illustrate storm paths. This is a considerable amount of forewarning to Murphy as well as other refinery facilities to utilize in order to prevent such high pollutant releasing accidents.

What is troublesome is the fact that the state of Louisiana has created protections for refineries to evade liability after releasing in excess such toxic pollutants. Specifically, Louisiana has set in place a legal protection for the refineries from incurring any type of liability. Indeed, refineries are allowed to emit over the designated maximum amounts if it is “accidental” or an “an act of God,” thus, there are many “accidents” reported on a monthly basis, each one evading liability. It is legally permissible in Louisiana to emit poisonous chemicals into the land, air, or water if it was due to an emergency situation under Louisiana Revised Statute 30:2060 (H) (2) (2010). Thus, even though the facilities illustrate they cannot handle weather activity that is typical to this region, they continue to operate without incurring any liability or penalties.

With the start of Hurricane Season, Louisiana residents are beginning to buy canned foods, batteries, and first aid kits in preparation for the potentially severe weather. Likewise, the refineries need to prepare as well. Some steps that should be implemented include:

1. Murphy hiring union workers with the expertise to perform shut down and start up operations in anticipation of storm activity,

2. also, putting in place reliable back up power to prevent a complete power outage and allowing high amounts of toxic releases, and

3. to increase storm water and wastewater capacity, this will help prevent overflow issues related to localized flooding.

The state of Louisiana is exhausted, the oil spill reminds residents everyday of the potential toxic threat of hurricane season. The state does not want to become a toxic gumbo, but rather, is asking for stronger regulations and safety measures that assure the residents that their refinery neighbors are preparing for hurricane season, just like everyone else. Although, hopefully more so, because Murphy has a lot more to lose than food in the fridge after a power outage, instead, they have sulfur dioxide and crude oil, a mixture that does not add to the appeal of anyone’s neighborhood.

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