Recent Records Indicate a History of Accidents and Chemical Leaks at Marathon's St. John Refinery
- 31-Aug-2023 5:13 PM
- Journalist: Bob Duffler
The Marathon Petroleum refinery located in Garyville, which recently witnessed a significant chemical fire prompting evacuations, has a documented history of more than a dozen emergency occurrences over the past five years, according to records from the state. While several of these incidents were minor, two resulted in worker injuries, with the majority originating from leaks in pipelines or storage tanks.
An examination of records from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) reveals that the Marathon refinery situated in St. John the Baptist Parish has reported a total of 14 emergency incidents since 2019. Notably, this tally excludes the most recent fire that burned for seven hours on Friday after a leakage of naphtha liquid from a storage tank led to ignition.
These records indicate that half of the incidents occurred within the past year, with nine involving chemicals seeping from containment vessels or pipelines, categorized by LDEQ as instances of solid waste pollution.
One of the latest recorded events transpired on February 20 when a heated asphalt tank experienced a leak, resulting in 4.6 barrels (equivalent to 193 gallons) of liquid asphalt seeping into the soil across a 50-foot area. For asphalt in Louisiana, the reportable quantity, representing the threshold for reporting unauthorized releases, stands at one barrel. On November 20, 2022, a diesel pipeline ruptured, leading to a spillage of 2.2 barrels (or 92 gallons) of diesel fuel on the ground during hydrostatic testing, a procedure that subjects pipes or tanks to high pressures to detect leaks.
Arguably, one of the most severe incidents occurred in the autumn of the previous year, involving a chemical fire that inflicted injuries on two workers, necessitating the airlifting of one to a New Orleans hospital. This fire ignited on October 5, 2022, triggered by a leak in a chemical pump casing that released butane and alkylate, a high-octane gasoline additive. The fire persisted for over 10 hours before being extinguished. The fire on Friday encompassed both solid waste release and air pollution. While Marathon states that air monitoring has not demonstrated an impact on the nearby community so far, the final air monitoring results from LDEQ have yet to be released to the public.
Marathon has not responded to requests for comment from the Illuminator. However, the company has issued statements via social media regarding the fire, asserting that its cause remains under investigation. The company emphasized its primary focus on ensuring the safety of individuals on-site, neighboring residents, first responders, and minimizing environmental repercussions. As a precaution, the refinery has operated at reduced rates during the response efforts, and plans are being devised to restore the refinery to standard operations while prioritizing safety.
This incident follows shortly after a separate extensive fire and explosion at the Dow Chemical plant in Plaquemine, with the cause of that event also under investigation. Although that facility experienced a similar number of emergency incidents during the same timeframe, it reported a larger number resulting in elevated levels of air pollution.