December 7, 2009 / 10:27 PM / 8 years ago

Valero's Texas City boiler had history of problems

HOUSTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - A giant industrial boiler that exploded late Friday, killing a worker at Valero Energy Corp’s (VLO.N) Texas City, Texas, refinery had a history of problems since it was installed in 2006, said an attorney for a worker injured in the blast.

“It just blew up,” said Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents injured Valero employee Michael Gibb, in an interview with Reuters on Monday. “They’ve been having fits and starts with this thing for many months.”

Valero employee Tommy Manis was killed, while Gibb and a contract worker were injured in the explosion of a boiler that provided steam for refining petroleum at the 245,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery, about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Houston.

The blast did not interrupt production or release hazardous chemicals, the company said.

Valero spokesman Bill Day said the company could not comment on specifics about the boiler’s operational history or other details while its investigation is ongoing.

“This is going to be a very long investigation, and very thorough,” Day said. “We’re limited in what we can say when the investigation’s going on.”

Valero and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the explosion.

Valero has called the incident a boiler failure, pending more detailed investigation.

Buzbee said Gibb sustained multiple cuts on his head from flying debris and metal.

He said Gibb had been “pretty vocal” about possible design problems with the boiler, which would repeatedly shut down and then fail to restart. Buzbee said the restart process included lighting its pilot light, and then a computer-operated gas line that fueled the boiler would repeatedly malfunction.

    Buzbee said Valero removed the boiler from the refinery early this year and sent it to be be overhauled in an effort to correct the problems.

    But the problems persisted when it was reinstalled. Two other boilers like the one that exploded that were installed at the plant at about the same time have not been as problematic, Buzbee said.

    OSHA spokeswoman Elizabeth Todd also declined comment on the federal worker safety agency’s probe.

    “OSHA has up to six months to investigate. There’s no way of knowing how long it will take, because every accident or incident is different. When the investigation is completed, its results will become public.”

    The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has decided against sending investigators to probe the blast, citing the lack of a hazardous chemical release or a threat to the community.

    The Texas City plant is the third-largest of Valero’s 15 U.S. refineries, according to Day. (Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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