An EF-1 tornado, about 150 yards wide with maximum winds estimated near 105 mph, hit Garyville about 5:30 a.m., the National Weather Service said. The tornado damaged the cooling towers at the Marathon Refinery in Garyville that led to the complete shutdown of the crude unit.
Residents reported heavy flaring across the plant and stated there was “a raunchy smell like diesel gasoline” in the neighborhood. Click here for a resident-captured video uploaded to iwitnesspollution.org the morning of May 28th.
LABB surveyed the area on May 28th and May 29th. On May 28th at 11:30am LABB took a bucket sample after strong hydrocarbon odors entered our vehicle on River Road adjacent to the plant. We had to wear gas masks in order to exit the vehicle and take a sample. Residents reported smelling odors early on May 28th and experiencing associated health symptoms of respiratory problems, headaches and nausea.
Marathon Refinery in Garyville continues to operate despite the severe damage to their infrastructure. On Monday June 2nd, Reuters reported that LDEQ is granting Marathon a variance for emissions caused during the installation and use of temporary cooling towers.
On Tuesday June 3rd, courtesy of our amazing partners SouthWings, LABB flew over the Marathon Refinery to survey the damage. Photos from the flyover posted to LABB’s Flikr page show two out of three cooling towers not currently in operation. It is dangerous for a refinery the size of the Marathon Garyville (over 500,000 barrels of oil refined per day) to operate on a single cooling tower.
While on the flyover, I noticed something called “fire pits” which looks to be two fields of low flares that burn excess chemicals. It is impossible to see on the ground because metal walls surround the fire pits on all four sides. The fire pits face the neighborhood along 19th Street in Reserve. I have never heard of fire pits before or seen in any permit or incident report from any refinery, much less Marathon. I have a call into LDEQ on their purpose and permits provided.
On June 1st, we entered hurricane season and this accident underscores the need for refineries to be prepared for severe weather that commonly wreaks havoc in the region at this time of year. Already this past week alone, we have had a refinery hit by a tornado, a fire at a Geismar chemical plant and an oil spill and controlled burn in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge . Welcome to summer in Louisiana.