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Oil and Trouble

Bucket Brigade's Report Demands Zero Accidents from Oil Industry

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is calling all concerned residents and whisteblowers to step up to the plate for Oil Industry Accident Awareness Month. 


In honor of the inaugural OIAMM, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Residents for Air Neutralization, the Standard Heights Community Association, and United Steelworkers have come together to ask for "Mission Zero Accidents." 


Cripple Creek's play Possum Kingdom is one of many initiatives to spread the word about OIAMM this month. Other events include a pollution art yard tour, movie screenings, photography exhibitions, and more. Click here for a full schedule.  


The LABB-led coalition is asking industries to place stricter quality controls on their operations, and to hire more workers.  


LABB Director Anne Rolfes said that, according to the nonprofit’s research, there is an average of six accidents per week at Louisiana refineries. Such accidents are caused by weather, equipment failure, process upset, and power failure, in that order of frequency. 


The process that LABB uses to create their stats is approved by the EPA, according to Rolfes. LABB’s process of scanning every accident report filed from various plants is approved under the EPA’s “Quality Assessment Project Plan” (QUAPP). 


“When industry or the state want to counter that they’re not sure what we’re doing, we’ve been at this for five years, they know that we do it, we spend every day looking through these numbers, and they need to come up with a better response.”


The biggest air pollution offenders are Motiva in Norco, as well as Shell Chemical East. Motiva emitted 648,733 pounds of pollution in a May 8 th accident, 93 percent of which was carbon monoxide. On August 28 th, the same plant released 239,879 pounds, 50 percent of which was carbon monoxide, in another accident. Shell Chemical released 198,959 pounds of pollution on June 23 rd, and another 180,069 pounds on December 6 th.


Residents of Da’ Parish, as well as Lake Charles and other refinery regions can report problems to LABB’s “iWitness Pollution Map.”


According to citizen reports, such accidents cause symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and respiratory ailments. Weather accounts for 45 percent of these accidents.


“For the last five years, we have asked the oil industry to collaborate with us to solve they’re problems, and they’re not doing it,” Rolfes said.


The LABB director advocates whistleblowing, whether from workers or residents affected by oil industry pollution. Furthermore, Rolfes noted that more workers would reduce accidents at facilities, as well as provide more jobs for Louisiana residents. 


Energize LA responded to LABB's annual report with their own findings. According to the pro-energy organization, none of Louisiana's refineries are violating Louisiana's Ambient Air Standards. 


The group responded to the report with the following statement: 


"The Bucket Brigade is twisting the facts and leaving out critical information. Emissions are not being emitted at a higher rate. The change in rate is due to the fact that emissions are being calculated by a new stack testing method because EPA’s previous stack testing method was deeply flawed – yet the industry was still forced to comply with it. The industry discovered the flaw, reported it to EPA, and EPA subsequently revised it." 


In 2011, the EPA began requiring that refineries measure, rather than estimate, the amount of chemicals released. Since then, refineries have reported a substantial amount of hydrogen cyanide being released into the air.  


Hydrogen Cyanide can affect the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system, according to the EPA's 2011 report. 


In addition to residents' health, accidents affect workers at such refineries. 


United Steelworkers is a nationwide union that advocates for workers' rights, and is composed of over 1.2 million retired and working members. 


Wilton Ledet of the USW, who works as an electrician at Norco’s Motiva Plant, said that quality controls have diminished in the past few years. “These numbers came in today, I’ve worked out there for 22 years, first time I’ve seen them,” said the LaFourche Parish native. “They like to accentuate the positive in the refinery…My members are telling me that the workers’ and contractors’ workmanship is not quality like it used to be years ago,” said Ledet.




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