April 26, 2011 / 10:42 AM / 8 years ago

Power cuts hit BP, Marathon, Valero Texas plants

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Refineries operated by BP Plc, Marathon Oil and Valero Energy Corp accounting for a combined 765,000 barrels of oil a day have been disrupted by power outages in Texas City, Texas, officials said.

BP’s 475,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery in Texas City lost power Monday evening, sending local residents inside to avoid breathing smoke from the refinery’s flares.

Bruce Clawson, Emergency Management Director for Texas city said on Tuesday that Valero’s 214,00 bpd and Marathon’s 76,000 bpd refineries subsequently also lost power early Tuesday.

“There was like a lightning flash back where the plants are,” said Jennifer Reynolds, who lives in Texas City about 2 miles from the BP refinery. “The sky lit up from the flares. My lungs are burning. It smells awful.”

Flares are used to burn off hydrocarbons that can’t be processed normally in a refinery’s production units. Burning off the material in the flares prevents potentially deadly explosions. When in use, the flares can be very loud and produce heavy black smoke.

Texas City officials said some of the BP refinery’s units were shut, but BP declined to discuss the status of units at the refinery.

A BP spokesman said no injuries had been reported due to the power outage, which also knocked out electricity at BP’s adjoining chemical plant. The cause of the outage was unknown.

BP “immediately called the city and declared a level 3 emergency,” said BP spokesman Michael Marr in a statement. “The city declared a shelter-in-place for its residents.”

“I can confirm that we’ve had issues with power at Texas City,” said Valero spokesman Bill Day of his company’s refinery. “To what extent we don’t know yet.”

A Dow Chemical Co plant in Texas City is also shut due to power outages, said the plant manager, confirming an earlier local press report.

PNM Resources whose subsidiary Texas New Mexico Power supplies Texas City, said there were four faults on power lines between 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. local time (0230 and 0930 GMT). The utility said the faults all occurred on the customer side of the lines, meaning it was a failure of customer owned and operated equipment not the power company.

Spokeswoman Cathy Garber said company policy prevented her from identifying the customer that had the problem.

BP’s Texas City refinery, the nation’s third largest, reported electrical power upsets in March and April prior to Monday night’s power failure.

In February, BP said it would sell the refinery, which was the site of a deadly explosion in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others, by the end of 2012.

The refinery faces continued scrutiny from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to correct problems found after the 2005 explosion.

In August, BP paid a record $50.6 million fine to settle alleged safety violations found by OSHA.

That settlement came at the same time BP was under intense criticism for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon platform explosion which killed 11 workers and sent near 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico .

The London-based energy giant is working to resolve another $30.7 million in fines sought by the federal work safety agency for alleged safety violations at the refinery.

BP has promised to spend $500 million between 2010 and 2016 to improve safety at the refinery.

The Texas Attorney General has sued BP for pollution from the refinery during a 40-day release in April and May of 2010 that sent 500,000 pounds of pollutants into the air. The April-May 2010 release is the subject of a $10-billion federal class-action lawsuit brought by refinery workers and Texas City residents.

Editing by Hans Peters

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