Processing Magazine

Federal officials ask for urgent safety changes at Citgo refinery

December 10, 2009
According to the Associated Press, federal officials issued urgent new safety recommendations for a Texas oil refinery where 21 tons of deadly acid were released this summer and said they''re also investigating the use of the chemical at refineries nationwide. The head of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said the investigation continues into the July accident at Citgo''s Corpus Christi refinery that seriously injured a worker, and accidents involving hydrofluoric acid in Illinois and Pennsylvania are also being investigated. In all, about one-third of the nation''s 150 refineries use hydrofluoric acid to make high-octane gas. The highly corrosive acid can burn eyes, eat away flesh at a rapid rate and is fatal after prolonged exposure. At the Corpus Christi plant, a control valve failed and released an HF vapor cloud. That cloud caught fire and started explosions that released the additional 21 tons of acid vapor, about 2 tons of which escaped into the sky. The injured worker got caught up in the cloud and caught fire. Winds helped carry the massive cloud into the ship channel and away from people. The CSB was critical of Citgo''s lack of cooperation with investigators and its early reports to state regulators about how much HF escaped. The CSB recommended that Citgo upgrade its emergency water system within 30 days. The system is used to spray down and absorb HF if it escapes, but the board''s investigation found the refinery nearly ran out of water after the first day and had to start using salt water from the ship channel. Officials also recommended third-party audits at Citgo''s refineries in Corpus Christi and near Chicago. Refineries using HF are supposed to undergo safety audits every three years, but the CSB found neither Citgo refinery has ever had one.