U.S. oil refiners are “compromising the mechanical integrity” of their equipment by extending maintenance cycles on their plants, the head of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said.
“We find that the refineries are doubling the time between scheduled maintenance,” Rafael Moure-Eraso, the board chairman, said today at a United Steelworkers conference in Irving, Texas. “Turnarounds that normally occur every two to three years are now happening every four or five, or longer.”
Refiners won’t make maintenance changes that undercut safety, said Ron Chittim, a senior policy adviser with the Washington-based American Petroleum Institute. He said refining, like other industries, has inherent risks.
“They will look at the hazards of delaying maintenance, or turnarounds, before taking any action,” Chittim said in a telephone interview. “You are dealing with hazardous materials, and accidents unfortunately happen.”
During April and May there were 13 fires, 19 deaths and 25 injuries in the oil sector, according to the United Steelworkers. Explosions in April on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico operated by BP Plc and at Tesoro Corp.’s Anacortes, Washington, refinery resulted in 18 deaths.
The board is an independent agency that investigates chemical accidents at industrial facilities.