Sustained Outrage


                                                                                                    Photo from U.S. CSB animation.

For folks in West Virginia who have a new-found interest in chemical safety in the wake of the Elk River chemical spill, the latest report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is worth a read. Here’s part of the press release issued today by the CSB:

The April 2010 fatal explosion and fire at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington was caused by damage to the heat exchanger, a mechanism known as “high temperature hydrogen attack” or HTHA, which severely cracked and weakened carbon steel tubing leading to a rupture, according to a CSB draft report released today. The draft report makes far-reaching recommendations to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Governor and State Legislature of the State of Washington to more rigorously protect workers and communities from potentially catastrophic chemical releases …

“Seven lives were tragically lost at the Tesoro refinery in 2010,” said Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso, CSB chairperson. “I believe the draft report does an outstanding job of tracing this complex accident to its roots: a deficient refinery safety culture, weak industry standards for safeguarding equipment, and a regulatory system that too often emphasizes activities rather than outcomes. The report is a clarion call for refinery safety reform.”

Using sophisticated computer models, the investigation found the industry-wide method used to predict the risk of HTHA damage to be inaccurate, with equipment failures occurring under conditions the deemed to be safe from HTHA. It cited deficiencies in the company’s safety culture that led to a “complacent” attitude toward flammable leaks and occasional fires. Investigators also determined that during the unit startup, Tesoro did not correct the history of hazardous conditions or limit the number of people involved in the hazardous non-routine startup of the heat exchangers. But because of the reoccurring leaks and the need to manually open a series of long-winded valves that required over one hundred turns by hand to fully open, a supervisor requested five additional workers to help. All seven lost their lives as a result of the blast.

CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said:

The accident at Tesoro could have been prevented had the company applied inherent safety principles and used HTHA resistant construction materials to prevent the heat exchanger cracking. This accident is very similar to the one that occurred at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California in August 2012, where corrosion of piping went undetected for decades until it ruptured, endangering the lives of 19 workers caught in a vapor cloud and sending 15,000 community members to the hospital. Companies must do a better job of preventing refinery accidents, which occur all too frequently.

Regarding the U.S. EPA, the CSB report recommended:

Revise the Chemical Accident Prevention Provisions under 40 CFR Part 68 to require the documented use of inherently safer systems analysis and the hierarchy of controls to the greatest extent feasible in establishing safeguards for identified process hazards. Until this revision is in effect, develop guidance and enforce the use of inherently safer systems analysis and the hierarchy of controls to the greatest extent feasible in establishing safeguards for identified process hazards through the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause.

West Virginians may recall that the issue of industry not focusing on “inherently safer” designs and technology was discussed for many years regarding the former Union Carbide (now Bayer CropScience) plant in Institute and its now-dismantled stockpile of the deadly chemical methyl isocyanate, or MIC.  And, we’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of a National Academy of Sciences report that noted the lack of focus by industry on the concept of inherently safer practices:

Key obstacles to their use include lack of familiarity with the tools among chemical process industry decision makers and the fear that the methods are either too simplistic or too costly to use … The use of these techniques could benefit not only the communities at risk from safety breaches, but also the industries themselves, as decision making techniques can help with the identification of profitable safety solutions that otherwise could be overlooked.

Here’s what the CDC had to say

Here’s the water data we have so far

Many readers have contacted me expressing interest in the water sampling data we’ve received so far from the Tomblin administration. So here it is:

Water sample results dated Jan. 12, 2014

Water sample results dated Jan. 14, 2014

 Water sample results dated Jan. 15, 2014

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety is posting the results on their Homeland Security Division’s website here.

Did Freedom Industries have to report the spill?


Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

As hundreds of thousands of West Virginians across a nine-county region wait for word on when they can resume using the water at their homes, folks have a flurry of other questions — not only about how to rid their homes of this “Crude MCHM” stuff, but also about what could have happened at Freedom Industries to cause this spill, and whether the company acted quickly enough in trying to deal with it.

One thing that’s come up is whether state or federal laws require Freedom Industries to report the spill to state or local authorities. The Daily Mail, for example, had a story today that told us:

The company responsible for a chemical leak that continues to force 300,000 West Virginians from using their tap water broke the law.

Which law, exactly, is still under investigation.

But state officials don’t believe Freedom Industries was required to follow a state law requiring industrial facilities to report an emergency within 15 minutes.

“I think the loophole, if you will, that this facility fell into is because it was not a hazardous material, it flew under the radar,” said Secretary Randy Huffman, head of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The story focused on the reporting requirements written into West Virginia law at the behest of then-Gov. Joe Manchin following the Sago Mine Disaster and the Aracoma Mine fire.

That’s all well and good. But there really shouldn’t be much question of whether Freedom Industries was required to report this spill to the state DEP. Just look at the stormwater permit the agency issued for the facility. It’s really pretty clear. Look on page 43 under “immediate reporting”:

a) The permittee shall report any noncompliance which may endanger health or the environment immediately after becoming aware of the circumstances by using the Agency’s designated spill alert telephone number. A written submission shall be provided within five (5) days of the time the permittee becomes aware of the circumstances. The written submission shall contain a description of the noncompliance and its cause; the period of noncompliance, including exact dates and times, and if the noncompliance has not been corrected, the anticipated time it is expected to continue; and steps taken or planned to reduce, eliminate, and prevent recurrence of the noncompliance.

(b) The following shall also be reported immediately:

(1) Any unanticipated bypass which exceeds any effluent limitation in the permit;

(2) Any upset which exceeds any effluent limitation in the permit; and

(3) Violation of a maximum daily discharge limitation for any of the pollutants listed by the Director in the permit to be reported immediately. This list shall include any toxic pollutant or hazardous substance, or any pollutant specifically identified as the method to control a toxic pollutant or hazardous substance.

 c) The Director may waive the written report on a case-by-case basis if the oral report has been received in accordance with the above.

d) Compliance with the requirements of IV.2 of this section, shall not relieve a person of compliance with Title 47, Series 11, Section 2.

Marcellus reforms not on W.Va. Democrats’ agenda

Natural Gas, fracking

When West Virginia lawmakers more than two years ago approved Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Horizontal Drilling Act, they included requirements for a wide variety of studies. Follow-up reports were to look at water pollution, impoundment safety, air pollution, noise and economic impact.

Well, those studies are in, and they’ve shown clearly that more is needed if West Virginians are to be protected as the Marcellus Shale boom continues in our state (see here, here, here, here and here). Most troubling has been the fact that Commerce Department officials continue to flaunt a legal requirement that they report publicly on the number of Marcellus workers who are actually from West Virginia, as opposed to out-of-state employees of drilling companies. If that weren’t enough, an interim meeting earlier this week highlighted the fact that some of the key research on potential water quality impacts of Marcellus waste disposal didn’t even study wastes from the Marcellus.

But if you’re looking for something to do while we wait for Gov. Tomblin’s State of the State address this evening, read through the House Democratic leadership’s agenda — here, here and here — and try to find where any of these pressing issues about the Marcellus boom are addressed.

Part 2: How many jobs would a cracker create?

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin

The potential construction of a natural gas “cracker” plant was understandably a big topic of discussion yesterday at Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Energy Summit here in Charleston. Unfortunately, though, state officials continue to misstate the findings of an industry jobs study in their rhetoric about what a big deal such a plant would be for West Virginia’s economy.

In opening the conference, Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, for example, cited the American Chemistry Council study and said it found such a facility would create “12,000 direct and downstream jobs.”

Then, during a very brief luncheon speech, Gov. Tomblin cited the same study and said it showed a cracker plant here would create 12,000 jobs in the “chemical and polymer industries.”

We’ve discussed this study before on this blog (see here), and tried to explain what it does and doesn’t say. You can read the study documents for yourself here, here and here. But this is the bottom line, quoting from my previous post on this:

Table 1 outlines the estimated ongoing (permanent) jobs that might be created if a company invests $3.2 billion in a major cracker facility here: About 12,300 total jobs. That figure includes 2,500 direct jobs, 6,300 indirect jobs and 3,500 induced jobs. As Kevin Swift, the council’s chief economist, just explained to me, that total number of jobs — the 12,000 figure the governor cited in his speech on statewide television and radio, before a joint session of the Legislature — includes all manner of jobs. It is not only direct manufacturing jobs, but positions with suppliers and support industries — everything from a waitress at a new cafe across the road from the plant to a doctor who starts a practice to serve residents in a growing community.

But they’re not all manufacturing jobs, and the ACC study doesn’t provide more detail that would give a clearer picture of how many jobs in various sectors with various levels of pay and benefits might be includes. You can get perhaps a bit more information by looking at the average wages for each category — $112,000 annually for direct jobs and $34,000 for indirect. But that’s a basic average, and may not tell the whole story.

It’s true that Gov. Tomblin said later in his talk that the cracker would provide:

.. Billions of dollars of economic impact that will affect every aspect of our economy, from locally owned grocery stores to plastics manufacturers.

But his speech still confuses the general public into thinking that  a West Virginia cracker plant would create 12,000 jobs in manufacturing or in the chemical industry, because he overstates what this study found. There’s no question such a project would have a huge economic impact — so why do state leaders insist on exaggerating things?

CSB proposes refinery safety overhaul


In a draft report released to the public today, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is urging an overhaul of the way refineries are regulated in California, calling on officials to replace the current patchwork of rules with a more rigorous, performance-based regulatory regime. The proposal, similar to those successfully adopted in the United Kingdom, Norway and Australia, is known as the “safety case” system and could serve as a model for U.S.-wide safety reforms.

The draft report is the second part of three in the CSB’s investigation of the August 2012 process fire in the crude unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. That fire endangered 19 workers and sent more than 15,000 residents to the hospital for medical attention. CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said:

After exhaustively analyzing the facts, the CSB investigation team found many ways that major refinery accidents like the Chevron fire could be made less likely by improving regulations.

Refinery safety rules need to focus on driving down risk to the lowest practicable level, rather than completing required paperwork. Companies, workers, and communities will all benefit from a rigorous system like the safety case.

I believe California could serve as a model for the nation by adopting this system. We applaud the work of the Governor’s Interagency Task Force for their proactive approach and highly positive recommendations to protect worker and public safety in California. I have great confidence that California will embrace the recommendations in our draft report and carry them forward to implement policy change.

The CSB’s press release explains:

As detailed in the CSB draft report, the safety case regime requires companies to demonstrate to refinery industry regulators – through a written “safety case report” – how major hazards are to be controlled and risks reduced to “as low as reasonably practicable,” or ALARP. The CSB report notes that the safety case is more than a written document; rather, it represents a fundamental change by shifting the responsibility for continuous reductions in major accident risks from regulators to the company.

To ensure that a facility’s safety goals and programs are accomplished, a safety case report generated by the company is rigorously reviewed, audited, and enforced by highly trained regulatory inspectors, whose technical training and experience are on par with the personnel employed by the companies they oversee, the draft report says.

The draft report comes about four months after the CSB released an “interim report” that found Chevron  repeatedly failed over a ten-year period to apply inherently safer design principles and upgrade piping in its crude oil processing unit, which was extremely corroded and ultimately ruptured on August 6, 2012.

The interim report identified missed opportunities on the part of Chevron to apply inherently safer piping design through the use of more corrosion-resistant metal alloys. The interim report also found a failure by Chevron to identify and evaluate damage mechanism hazards, which if acted upon, would likely have identified the possibility of a catastrophic sulfidation corrosion-related piping failure. There are currently no federal or state regulatory requirements to apply these important preventative measures. The investigation team concluded that enhanced regulatory oversight with greater worker involvement and public participation are needed to improve petroleum refinery safety.

Continue reading…


There’s a new study out today that might be of interest to West Virginians who follow the debate over the boom in natural gas drilling in our state’s Marcellus Shale region. Here’s the press release from The Endocrine Society:

A controversial oil and natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses many chemicals that can disrupt the body’s hormones, according to new research accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s journal Endocrinology.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are substances that can interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system. EDCs can be found in manufactured products as well as certain foods, air, water and soil. Research has linked EDC exposure to infertility, cancer and birth defects.

… The study examined 12 suspected or known endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in natural gas operations and measured their ability to mimic or block the effect of the body’s male and female reproductive hormones. To gauge endocrine-disrupting activity from natural gas operations, researchers took surface and ground water samples from sites with drilling spills or accidents in a drilling-dense area of Garfield County, CO – an area with more than 10,000 active natural gas wells – and from drilling-sparse control sites without spills in Garfield County as well as Boone County, MO.

The water samples from drilling sites had higher levels of EDC activity that could interfere with the body’s response to androgens, a class of hormones that includes testosterone, as well as the reproductive hormone estrogen. Drilling site water samples had moderate to high levels of EDC activity, and samples from the Colorado River – the drainage basin for the natural gas drilling sites – had moderate levels. In comparison, little activity was measured in the water samples from the sites with little drilling.

Here’s a link to the study, and a link to criticism of the study from the industry group Energy in Depth, which says, among other things:

The study focuses on water samples from five areas in Garfield County, Colo., that are known to have had “a spill or incident related to natural gas drilling processes” within the past six years. These data are compared against a small number of samples from “drilling sparse locations” in the same county and a “drilling absent location in Boone County.” That’s Boone County, Missouri, by the way.

We all know spills are bad and can cause problems, so what exactly did they expect to find?  If this were about advancing the state of knowledge about the risks of development, the study would have focused on areas with oil and gas development where no known incidents had occurred. That might actually tell us something relevant about safety, since it would help determine if there are any unknown impacts that we should take care to safeguard against.

Instead, they investigated a known problem area and declared it a problem area. Real cutting edge stuff.

West Virginia gets an ‘F’ on gun safety

Frank Kulick

Frank Kulick, adjusts a display of wooden crosses, and a Jewish Star of David, representing the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, on his front lawn, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

As Saturday’s one-year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., approaches, it’s worth looking at the latest scorecard on state gun safety legislation from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign, which explains:

Since Newtown, so much has changed. The slaughter of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School sent shockwaves through the nation and ignited a passionate call for our leaders to take steps to prevent gun violence. When Congress failed to pass any new gun violence prevention legislation in 2013, including the overwhelmingly popular legislation to expand background checks, state legislatures answered the call.

Starting last January, legislators in state houses across the country began introducing a record number of bills to strengthen gun laws. Even states with historically weak gun laws, like Florida, Missouri, and Texas, took action towards sensible gun legislation. In fact, twenty-one states enacted new laws to curb gun violence in their communities, with eight of these states passing major reforms—far eclipsing the corporate gun lobby’s limited success in state legislatures in 2013.

In the grading, West Virginia received an “F”. The ratings noted, among other things two piece of legislation that passed this year that weaken gun regulation:

— HB 2431 — Makes concealed weapon permit holders exempt from background checks, clarifies mental health requirements and makes other changes to CCW permit law.

— S 369 — Provides automatic reciprocity with concealed weapon permits from all other states.

The scorecard goes on to explain that West Virginia does not:

— Require a background check prior to the transfer of a firearm between unlicensed individuals;

— Require firearms dealers to obtain a state license;

— Regulate the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or large capacity ammunition magazines;

— Require gun owners to obtain a license, register their firearms, or report lost or stolen firearms;

— Limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time;

— Impose a waiting period before the sale of a firearm;

— Regulate unsafe handguns (“junk guns” or “Saturday night specials”);

— Significantly regulate ammunition;

— Allow local governments to regulate firearms; or

— Give local law enforcement discretion to deny a concealed handgun permit.


In 2010, West Virginia had the 13th highest number of gun deaths per capita among the states. In addition, based on data published by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, in 2009, West Virginia supplied the 2nd highest number of crime guns to other states per capita, and the state exports far more crime guns than it imports.

Obama OSHA again stalls combustible dust rule

Barack Obama

Back in late October, some in the media were jumping to praise a “burst of activity” by the Obama administration’s Labor Department to protect American workers. I wonder if those some folks have taken a look at the department’s latest semi-annual regulatory agenda, made public last week by the White House.

In particular, it’s worth looking at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s entry regarding its long-stalled rule to protect workers from the serious dangers of combustible dust.

OSHA reveals in this entry that it still hasn’t convened a promised panel to consider the rule’s potential impacts on small businesses.  And OSHA doesn’t plan to do so until at least April 2014.  The last we heard from OSHA, they were going to convene that panel in November.  Of course, way back in the fall of 2010, OSHA had said it would organize this panel by April 2011 … and it’s still never done so.

So the combustible dust rule — a proposal the U.S. Chemical Safety Board listed as its first-ever “most wanted” safety reform by OSHA — continues to go nowhere.