BP Equipment Failure Fouls Texas City Air

The smell of rotten eggs descended on Texas City, Texas, after an equipment failure at BP’s Texas City refinery on Monday, November 15.

According to BP spokesman Michael Marr, workers were performing maintenance work on a sour water compressor and noticed the foul smell after a piece of equipment failed. Texas City Homeland Security Director Bruce Clawson said officials believe the smell came from a leak of hydrogen sulfide, which is a hazardous chemical that smells strongly of rotten eggs.

Hydrogen sulfide is present in sour water, which is refinery waste water that is pumped into an enclosed sewer system for disposal. BP officials said one or two barrels of sour water spilled, causing the rotten smell.

The odor caused some businesses on Palmer Highway about 13 blocks from the refinery to close for more than an hour until the smell dissipated. Marr reported that a shelter-in-place order was briefly instated within the refinery for areas downwind of the leak. No shelter-in-place orders were made for the city, but Clawson issued a phone and e-mail alert to Texas City residents to notify them of the situation.

Clawson said that BP industrial hygienists and the Texas City Fire Department conducted ground-level air monitoring, but there were no readings of hazardous chemicals in the air. Additionally, BP set up an incident command center until the leak was contained around 9:00 pm.

While this incident was relatively minor, it is the latest in a string of more serious accidents at BP’s Texas City refinery. Two fires occurred at the refinery in March 2004 and July 2005. In March 2005, an explosion killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others, and an August 2005 leak released thousands of pounds of flammable and toxic pollutants into the air. These incidents prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate BP for violations of the Clean Air Act.

In fall 2010, BP agreed to pay a $15 million fine to settle charges filed by the Department of Justice over violations discovered by the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the largest fine ever assessed for violations of the Clear Air Act’s chemical accident prevention regulations, and it also was the largest civil penalty recovered for Clean Air Act violations at a single facility.

Source: Possible Chemical Leak at BP Texas City Refinery, BP sends stink across Texas City