Firefighters hosed down oil storage tanks at Venezuela's Amuay oil refinery Tuesday, working in a landscape choked with debris from the deadly August 25 blast. Refineries treat raw crude by superheating it to 660˚F (350˚C) and pumping the vaporized oil into tall towers where, as it cools, it condenses into distinct liquids that can then be chemically constructed into specific petroleum products such as gasoline. In the U.S., the CSB's Holmstrom warned, that process isn't nearly as safe as it should be to prevent potentially deadly accidents-despite the clear lessons of the past.
"The Chemical Safety Board certainly hoped that in the wake of Texas City, where there were 15 people killed and two major reports produced on how to improve refinery safety, that there would have been significant changes after that major catastrophe. Unfortunately the types of improvements that I think a number of people hoped would have occurred out of that incident have not occurred. Changes have not been sufficient to arrest the unfortunate number of refinery fires, explosions, and releases that have occurred, and this is a very big concern for all the government agencies that are overseeing refinery safety," Holmstrom said.
On Wednesday, workers were spraying tank walls at the Amuay refinery with foam as part of the cooling process for the facility, said plant manager Luongo told Venezuelan media. As PDVSA scrambles to restart the refinery, scrutiny of the organization's practices will continue, as will attempts to prevent similar accidents around the world. The effects of the Amuay blast and its disruption of fuel production are unlikely to reach Venezuelans' wallets, however, via price hikes at the pump. Thanks to massive fuel subsidies, gasoline in that country is consistently the cheapest in the world.
(Related Interactive Map: "Fossil Fuel Burden on State Coffers")