Dec. 14, 2002 – Residents of Estate Profit and Clifton Hill were faced on Friday with contradictory information from Hovensa and government sources concerning the safety of their cistern water as a result of the accidental release of hydrocarbons a week ago at the refinery.
On Tuesday, Hovensa spokesman Alex A. Moorhead said in a release that testing of samples from Estate Profit area cisterns by a mainland laboratory approved by the Environmental Protection Agency had found them free of benzene and petroleum hydrocarbon contamination, and safe for drinking. (See "Off-island tests find water safe, Hovensa says".)
But on Friday, Hollis Griffin, head of the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Environmental Protection Division, said that residents of Estate Profit and Clifton Hill should not use their cistern water for drinking, cooking or washing.
Griffin said the department had not received a report from Hovensa on the results of the tests conducted following the hydrocarbon release that occurred on Dec. 5. He said the department received a copy of the water sampling plan on Friday, but that it can't give the go-ahead for residents to use their cistern water until it reviews the test findings.
However, Moorhead, Hovensa's vice president for government affairs and community relations, said in response on Friday that the company had sent the test results to DPNR. In fact, he said, department officials asked for more information, which then was delivered. "We submitted a narrative of the sequence of events," he said.
Hovensa earlier identified the released hydrocarbon substance as naphtha, a chemical compound which it said contains less than 3 percent benzene.
Moorhead said analysis of water samples from the Estate Profit area found nothing that would impact negatively on health, and the Tuesday release stated that it was safe for residents there to resume using their cistern water.
He said Hovensa does not believe that the release resulted in any impact on residents of Estate Clifton Hill, based on the wind direction that existed at the time of the incident and on interviews that refinery personnel subsequently conducted with some Clifton Hill residents.
On Saturday, Moorhead termed the contradictory releases "the result of a failure in communications." He said he learned in talking with Griffin on Wednesday "that DPNR objected, as an intrusion into its area of responsibility, to the statement that Hovensa had issued on the previous day that the water in the cisterns in Estate Profit is safe for drinking and cooking." After that, he said, refinery Environmental Department personnel "met with Mr. Griffin and provided him with a copy of the report" on the lab testing results.
Moorhead said Hovensa "had previously informed DPNR that the results were negative, but had not provided a copy of the report. During the meeting, the written submission of additional information to DPNR was requested. On Friday — yesterday — Hovensa submitted a written report to DPNR with the additional information that was requested."
Hovensa is confident that after DPNR officials review the documentation submitted, they "will conclude that the water in cisterns at Estate Profit was not contaminated" as a result of the hydrocarbon release, he said.
Moorhead said the cause of the hydrocarbon release evidently was "the presence of an unacceptable quantity of water in the crude oil that was fed into the crude distillation unit where the release originated. The water vaporized when it encountered the high operating temperature inside the crude unit, causing a rise of the pressure inside the crude unit. As a result, the safety relief valves on the unit opened, as they are designed to do at a pre-set pressure; they relieved the pressure inside the crude unit by temporarily venting steam and hydrocarbon into the air."
Hovensa has conducted an internal investigation "to determine responsibility for the deviation from our operating procedure that resulted in crude containing an unacceptable quantity of water being fed to the crude unit and to further determine appropriate action to be taken against the responsible person(s)," Moorhead said.
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