August 28, 2012 / 5:53 AM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 7-Venezuela stamps out refinery blaze, eyes a restart

* PDVSA hopes to restart Amuay facility in two days
    * Explosion on Saturday killed 48, wounded dozens more

    By Marianna Parraga
    PARAGUANA, Venezuela, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Venezuelan
firefighters put out a blaze at the country's biggest oil
refinery on Tuesday, paving the way for a restart of the
facility and an investigation into the world's deadliest
refinery accident in fifteen years. 
    Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez has said the
645,000-barrel-per-day Amuay facility should restart within two
days of the fire being extinguished. A pre-dawn blast on
Saturday killed 48 people, wounded dozens and flattened hundreds
of homes. 
    U.S. gasoline futures tumbled on Tuesday after soaring the
day before, driven by the resolution of the Amuay blaze and the
smaller-than-expected impact on U.S. Gulf Coast refineries from
Hurricane Isaac, which is expected to make landfall there late
in the day. 
    None of Amuay's processing units were hit by the blaze,
though refinery operations were shut down on Saturday for safety
reasons. State oil company PDVSA says it has sufficient stocks
to meet domestic and international market demand.
    The blaze was out by mid-day, even though one fuel storage
tank burned intermittently in the morning - flaring up twice
only minutes after authorities had declared it extinguished. 
    The charred remains of three fuel tanks stood behind piles
of rubble scattered by the blast at Amuay.
    A refinery manager said teams were working to cool the
extinguished tanks, begin an inspection of the grounds and
prepare for the restart.
    "As soon as I got up I left the house and said 'Thank God
they managed to put that fire out,'" said Juan Padilla, 76, a
former refinery worker who lives in the neighboring Ali Primera
area. "I'm going to sleep easy tonight."
    It was one of the most deadly oil industry accidents in
recent years, nearing the toll of the 1997 fire at India's
Visakhapatnam refinery that killed 56 and topping the 2005 blast
at BP Plc's Texas City refinery in which 15 people died. 
    More than 50 people were declared dead or missing last year
after a drilling rig sank in the icy seas off eastern Russia.
    The incident has thrown a spotlight on the shoddy
performance of Venezuela's refineries, which for the last decade
have suffered frequent accidents and unplanned outages.    
    PDVSA officials deny allegations by critics that the blast
may have been caused by a lack of maintenance. Many of the dead
were National Guard troops who were providing security in a
compound next to the tanks.
    Even after Amuay is up and running, PDVSA may have to rely
more than usual on fuel imports, traders say. Problems at tank
farms can often make it difficult for companies to properly
blend gasoline.
    PDVSA has for years been a recurrent fuel importer due to
frequent refinery outages. While tame in comparison to
Saturday's explosion, the outages still hamper output of oil
    During a visit to the scene on Monday, President Hugo Chavez
promised to set up a $23 million fund to help pay for clean-up
operations and replace destroyed homes. 
    Authorities on Tuesday, seeking to show a quick response for
the victims, gave new houses to families that had lost homes.
    "I really love you, Chavez," one elderly woman in tears told
the president via a live television transmission showing her
holding keys to her new home. "Thanks to you, I have this."
    The accident has complicated President Hugo Chavez's
re-election campaign. It has pulled him away from his usual
schedule of exuberant rallies and left him fending off
accusations of mismanagement of the oil industry.
    But the accident is not expected to be a major issue in the
Oct. 7 election, which polls broadly show Chavez winning.
    Government agencies such as the labor and environment
ministries are unlikely to punish PDVSA. The company's frequent
refinery incidents rarely draw sanction.
    In contrast, BP in July agreed to pay $13 million to
settle safety violations at its Texas City refinery.
0 : 0
  • narrow-browser-and-phone
  • medium-browser-and-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser
  • wide-browser-and-larger
  • medium-browser-and-landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser-and-larger
  • above-phone
  • portrait-tablet-and-above
  • above-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet-and-above
  • landscape-tablet-and-medium-wide-browser
  • portrait-tablet-and-below
  • landscape-tablet-and-below