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Environmental Group Seeks Safety Improvements At Refineries

Pattie Steib
An oil refinery in Chalmette, La.

Environmental activists in the Louisiana Bucket Brigade say accidents at Louisiana’s refineries and chemical plants average about six a week. The group is calling for more safety measures.

Brigade founding director Anne Rolfes says the recommendation is based on accident reports filed with the state, as required by the Clean Air Act.

An industry group repeated complains that the environmental group manipulates information.

Energize LA is an offshoot of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which represents refineries. It says accidents are down, as are pollution emissions.

Rolfes says the Brigade is repeating calls for improving safety by hiring more workers to maintain equipment.

United Steelworkers spokesman Wilton Ledet has worked at the Motiva refinery in Norco for 22 years. His union supports the Bucket Brigade’s call for more full-time workers.

“They just started re-hiring some permanent maintenance people, but the numbers from 10 to 15 years ago have been dwindling down and down and down from permanent maintenance personnel in the plant,” Ledet said.

Rolfes says accident reduction is possible.

“Look at what the oil industry is doing out in the Gulf," said Rolfes. "They are drilling miles and miles deep into the ocean. If they have the technology to do that, I think they certainly solve their problems of accidents onshore.” 

The Norco Manufacturing Complex, which includes the Norco Motiva refinery and Shell chemical plant, took the top five spots for air pollution accidents of 2012.

It did not respond to requests for comment on the report, other than to say it "strives to operate its manufacturing facility in compliance with all applicable permits, laws and regulations."

Eileen is a news reporter and producer for WWNO. She researches, reports and produces the local daily news items. Eileen relocated to New Orleans in 2008 after working as a writer and producer with the Associated Press in Washington, D.C. for seven years.

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