Louisiana Bucket Brigade releases statewide refinery accident figures for 2013

NOLA.com / The Time Picayune

Although there were fewer accidents reported by ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge in 2013 compared to the previous year, local environmental advocates say the numbers could be skewed, since the company self-reports the information.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Green Army released Saturday (Nov. 22) the number of refinery accidents statewide in 2013.

ExxonMobil reported 32 accidents in 2013, less than the 52 reported in 2013.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s figures are based off of accident reports filed with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality by each of the state’s 17 oil refineries. However since the reports are self-reported, and refineries are required by law to report only quantities above a certain figure, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade claims pollution totals are likely underestimated.

There were 331 accidents reported by in the state in 2013, an average of six per week, just a few more than in 2012, when there were 327 reported accidents.

“These accidents released over two million pounds and over 62,000 gallons of pollution in 2013, and residents are rarely notified during these accidents,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the environmental advocacy group headquartered out of New Orleans.

The Bucket Brigade released the figures during a Saturday morning breakfast at a church just across from ExxonMobil, alongside Green Army leader retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré.

The groups claim that by the time residents get word of the reports, it’s too late for them to take any kind of action. Furthermore, they say some incidents that released substances higher than the reportable quantities, were not reported properly.

In order to protect residents from any long-term effects of being exposed to pollutants, Honoré called for local refineries to adopt 21st-century style monitoring systems. Honoré says such reporting systems, available in other states, tend to include air monitors that reads air quality continuously, and sends automatic alerts to residents whenever it detects problems.

“The fact that we’re the second poorest state and the (fourth) largest energy producer is a shame,” Honore said.

Honore said there’s no denying the oil and gas industry’s investment in the community, with the recently-announced Sasol project bringing in thousands alone to the neighborhood. However, he said whenever companies release pollution, they and other agencies, most likely say the material didn’t have any impact beyond the fence line of the facility.

“How do you stop gas from going beyond a chain link fence,” he askes.

He said what he’d like most is for residents to have better access to reporting tools so they’d be able to control their exposure to any pollution.

Petrochemical companies included in the annual report and  local business organizations have continuously disputed the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s figures, claiming the organization includes incidents that are not under regulations mandated by the Clean Air Act to be reported, and material that’s burned off through flares.

Companies also say the report doesn’t take into account the increasing air quality and decline in emissions some companies have reported.

“I think that it might be missing the forest for the trees of what is most important here,” said Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “The broader commentary and observation that we’ve had is that air quality has been continually improving in the Baton Rouge area since the Clean Air Act.

After viewing the report, Matt Dempsey of pro-oil-and-gas group Energize LA said, “once again, the Bucket Brigade dishonestly fails to mention that the air quality in Louisiana is the cleanest it’s been in decades and meets state and federal air quality standards. In fact, air quality continues to improve while energy development in the state booms, providing economic growth and good paying jobs.”

ExxonMobil Baton Rouge’s officials say overall pollution releases at the refinery and chemical plant have declined by more than 40 percent since 1990.

Stephanie Cargile, public and government affairs manager with ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, said the company would be looking at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade report in detail. “ExxonMobil Baton Rouge continually strives to reduce emissions and reduce the number and severity of incidents. In fact, 2013 was a record year for environmental performance. The refinery experienced its best-ever reliability performance last year, including reductions in spills and flaring,” she Cargile said.

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