Molly Brackin, Monitoring and Evaluation Associate
The first report of flaring at Shell Norco came into the map around noon on Thursday, March 6th.
Four other reports came in to the map about the same large flare over the next seven hours. It is obvious that something was happening at the Shell refinery in Norco, but it’s difficult to find out what exactly is going on- especially since the National Response Center (NRC) website has been down for well over a week. The NRC is who facilities are legally required to report to when an unauthorized release (read: accident) happens. NRC reports show up on the iWitness Pollution Map alongside citizen reports, helping to verify a community’s experience with pollution. When the NRC site is down many people, including us here at LABB, are left wondering what in the world is going on at an offending refinery.
SkyTruth is the organization that gathers the NRC reports and puts them on the iWitness Pollution Map. On February 27th, SkyTruth posted to their blog about how the NRC site had been down for 6 days and counting due to maintenance. In an update to this blog post, John Amos, the president of SkyTruth wrote:
“Chris, a senior watch officer at NRC, called me back. He said their server crashed, and new requirements for computer systems and security from Dept. of Homeland Security are essentially forcing them to rebuild from scratch, which is taking longer than anticipated. He said they hope a static website will be functional in a week or so, but the ability to search for and download oil and hazmat spill reports might not be up again for a few weeks.”
Luckily for the citizens of Norco and the surrounding areas, the iWitness Pollution Map is still working, and there are tireless citizens still reporting. Additionally, are hot on the case here at the Louisina Bucket Brigade. Katie, our new Research Analyst, is only three days on the job, but she has been on the phone all morning trying to glean information from the LDEQ, the St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations Center, and the refinery itself.
Our contact at the LDEQ told us that they were alerted around 10 AM on Thursday, March 6th about a chemical gas compressor that went offline at the Shell Motiva facility in Norco. This caused them to release benzene, butadiene and VOCs to the OLS5 Elevated Flare. The amounts released of these chemicals are as of yet unknown, but the flaring lasted until 2:45 AM this morning (Friday, March 07). Shell Motiva was still working at the time of the call to get their production back online. Shell told the LDEQ that they did place air monitors around the perimeter of the facility, but that none of these monitors picked up pollution in excess of air quality standards.
According to the St. Charles Parish Emergency Operation Center an NRC report was indeed submitted by the facility- the public just has no access to it. A verbal transcript of the report was given to our Research Analyst Katie. The report contains similar information to what the LDEQ told us. A process gas compressor at Motiva Norco tripped offline due to low lube oil pressure, causing them to flare benzene and butadiene in unknown amounts between 10 AM on 3/6 and 2:45 AM on 3/7. They reported no injuries, fatalities, fires, evacuations, or off-site impacts. Obviously that last statement is incorrect, as the following report to the iWitness Pollution Map details:
“I’m a veterinarian traveling by car to St. Charles Parish. There’s a large burn going on in the area of Norco, northwest of 610. I’m presently in St. Rose, and the air quality is very poor, nauseatingly poor. I don’t recognize the chemical, but it certainly makes you feel sick to your stomach.”– http://map.labucketbrigade.org/reports/view/13274
The citizens of Louisiana know who to call when pollution affects their communities. This situation is a great example of why the iWitness Pollution Map is such a great tool. If you are in the Norco area, and you saw, smelled or heard anything during the time the flare was burning please don’t hesitate to report! You can call or text 504-272-7645, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit iwitnesspollution.org to keep up with the reports coming in from that area. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is looking out for the health of our state!