UpdateCitgo report needs alternatives to hydrogen fluoride - union

09 December 2009 23:25  [Source: ICIS news]

(adds updates throughout)

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The United Steelworkers (USW) union on Wednesday said the US Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) recommendations to Citgo’s Corpus Christi refinery in Texas should have included using alternative technologies to hydrogen fluoride.

“The inherently safer technology is here; it just has to be used,” the group said in a statement.

The recommendations came due to the 19 July fire that resulted in the hospitalisation of a worker and the release of 42,000 pounds (19 tonnes) of hydrogen fluoride, according to the CSB.

The CSB issued two “urgent” recommendations to Citgo for safety measures to be taken at the refinery, including the improvement of its emergency water system and the use of third-party audits to ensure the safety of hydrogen fluoride units.

But according to the union, safer alkylation catalysts, such as solid-acid catalysts, would prevent the need for such hydrogen fluoride systems. The USW said it would have preferred a recommendation to have a test slip stream done to compare the hydrogen fluoride catalyst to the solid-acid.

“A slip stream allows for an alternative catalyst to be run at the same time as the hydrogen fluoride system and is affordable,” the group said. “Hydrogen fluoride threatens all the workers in a refinery if it is released.”

In addition, while saying third-party audits should be done at all refineries using the hydrogen fluoride catalyst, the group expressed some disappointment in the recommendation because companies remain free to ignore the advice.

“They say what oil companies should do, not what they must do,” the USW said.

In October, the USW asked the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to review Citgo's start-up plan for the refinery, citing safety concerns amid a maintenance turnaround that was delayed until 2011.

On Wednesday, the USW also questioned the lack of discussions between the safety board and the union representing the Corpus Christi workers.

“It is our understanding that the investigators had discussions with the company regarding the recommendations, but had no dialogue with the union,” the group said. “We do not feel the CSB is meeting its charter by not discussing the proposed recommendations with the union as well as the company.”

The USW said it hoped the CSB’s final investigation report – due next August – would address the overall safety of the refinery, similar to the report on BP’s Texas City explosion where the CSB told BP to examine safety management systems in all its US refineries.

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By: Ben DuBose
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