Union leader criticises Sunoco’s operations during Irene

01 September 2011 00:37  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Sunoco on Wednesday denied charges by a labour union that it took needless risks by operating two US east coast refineries during Hurricane Irene.

The Local 10-1 president Jim Savage with the United Steelworkers (USW) union said: “[Sunoco] rolled the dice despite the very real possibility of there being power outages, flooding and equipment breakdowns during the storm. Luckily, no one got hurt.”

Sunoco operates two refineries in Pennsylvania, its 178,000 bbl/day Marcus Hook facility and its 335,000 bbl/day Philadelphia refinery. Irene hit Pennsylvania on 27 August.

Sunoco spokesman Thomas Golembeski denied the labour union charge.

“Sunoco monitored the storm closely using a specialised weather service, assessed its track and intensity, and followed our hurricane preparedness plan,” Golembeski said.

At both refineries, Sunoco shut down its hydrofluoric acid unit before the hurricane, while the crude units continued operating at reduced rates.

Savage said if a crude unit failed during the storm, operators would have had to face strong winds and possible flooding to ensure the unit was not damaged further. Otherwise, the unit could have become a risk to the workers.

He said there were three different routes Sunoco should have taken to prevent refinery damage and keep its workers safe.

Sunoco could have put the refineries in standby mode by running the units but not producing, during the storm.

Savage said the company could have equipped the refineries with back-up generators, air compressors and hydrogen trailers on site to safely continue operations during the storm.

The final option would have been to sandbag critical refinery infrastructure like electric switch rooms, sub-stations and critical pumps to prevent flooding, Savage said.

Golembeski said, “We took into consideration the design limitations of our equipment, as well as the expected intensity of the storm, when making our decisions”, adding, “We had extra resources on hand and worked closely with our electric utility provider to ensure safe operations.”

Golembeski reported no damage at the refineries, but he would not discuss individual units.

By: Sheena Martin
+1 713 525 2653

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