Problem at Hovensa oil refinery in Virgin Islands triggers oil burnoff, EPA to investigate

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Problem at Hovensa refinery triggers oil burnoff

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands — A problem at the Hovensa LLC oil refinery triggered a burnoff of heavy oil Thursday that sent up a plume of black smoke, a spokesman said.

Oil was diverted from one of the refinery’s processing units to a safety mechanism known as a ground flare with large burners while the problem was corrected, Hovensa spokesman Alex Moorehead said. He said there were no injuries and he did not have information on the cause of the problem.

“Air quality monitoring continues inside and outside the refinery, and no substance has been detected in the air at a level exceeding the standard established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” Moorehead said.

By late Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Caribbean territory’s natural resources department said the initial flare activity had diminished and only the material in the line was being burned off.

The agency urged islanders near the refinery on St. Croix to protect water cisterns from possible falling soot and avoid areas affected by the pollution. It said it was investigating the incident as well as reports of oil spots on vehicles at a container port facility and an airport.

EPA spokeswoman Brenda Reyes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said the federal agency was sending someone from its Emergency, Response and Remediation Branch to the Virgin Islands in response to the incident.

Hovensa is among the 10 largest refineries in the world.

The Virgin Islands company is a joint venture of the U.S. oil company Hess Corp. and Petroleos de Venezuela SA, Venezuela’s state energy monopoly.

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