Run and hide! Operations are “normal”!

When PDVSA says refinery operations are normal, get out your gas mask:

April 24 2010: Contingency Plan Activated

Paraguaná Refining Center maintains operations in total normalcy

Paraguaná.- Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) informs that at 1:25 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, 2010, a fire broke out in the charge-preheating interchangers of the catalytic complex of the Cardón refinery, belonging to the Paraguaná Refining Complex, Falcón state. The event didn’t leave any victims or damages to the environment thanks to the quick action of emergency prevention and control personnel.

As a security and prevention measure, the plant was halted to protect personnel and facilities. Once an evaluation is completed, the secure startup protocol will begin, as planned for these cases. It’s important to emphasize the quick action and celerity of the firefighters and emergency personnel involved in this incident.

As a result of this incident, an increase in emissions from the La Botija flare stack will be appreciated, which shouldn’t cause any alarm.

PDVSA guarantees the reliability of Paraguaná operations and fulfillment of its commitments, both in the domestic and international markets, as it can count on sufficient inventories in the refining system.

Now, let’s play a game. What if Chevron’s Richmond refinery had a fire at its catalytic cracker, followed by flaring, and this was their public response? No quantification of what is being flared off, or how much, or for how long. Just a statement lauding the firefighters and telling everyone that increased flaring “shouldn’t cause any alarm.” Would the West County Toxics Coalition say, “OK, if you say so!”

This is one of the many problems with state control of large polluting industries. It ends up looking identical to a corporate-controlled state. When the companies and government are on the same side, they can work together to screw the public and the environment. Within the government, there is no balance of power. The oil ministry outweighs the environment ministry many times over. And public questioning of PDVSA’s good will and honesty is tantamount to treason, so citizen protests never gain much traction.

That all said, PDVSA has become more transparent in recent months about its fires, explosions, leaks and other maintenance problems. As someone who personally pleaded with executives including the vice president of refining, the vice-minister of hydrocarbons, the head of the Paraguana refinery, and others, I should be grateful. I am. But there’s still a ways to go before the Nueva PDVSA lives up to its self-billing as a company of the pueblo, by the pueblo, for the pueblo.