Raccoon blamed for Delaware City Refinery outage

Refinery leaders say the raccoon got into some electrical equipment at the refinery, knocking a number of units offline, causing a large flaring incident Sunday night.

Delaware City Refinery manager Herman Seedorf says the raccoon got into some high-voltage switch gear at the refinery and “connected himself between a very high voltage bus bar and the ground, and that caused basically an electrical fault.”  That loss of power caused a chain of events that knocked much of the refinery offline.  

When that happens, pressure can build up in some units because they’re not operating.  To relieve that pressure, the gas gets sent to the flare to protect the equipment, refinery workers, and those in the surrounding community.  “All those safety systems worked as designed, but as the gas goes to the flare it has to be combusted, and that’s why you see a very large flare, especially when you have a number of units shut down like that,” says Seedorf.

During the shutdown, more than 1,000 pounds of carbon monoxide was released, according to a report released by the National Response Center.  The refinery also released 500 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of hydrogen cyanide.  “We lost a number of these operating units all at once, and basically that meant we had a lot of stuff relieving through the flare,” Seedorf says.  “There were some odors that we detected, but we also measured for any sulfur compounds that could be of concern, and there was absolutely nothing detectable by the meters that we were using.”

The large flare was captured on video Sunday night by Sarah Bucic who is a member of the refinery’s Community Advisory Panel.  She drove past the refinery during the flaring and tells WHYY, “When I saw the two flares both about 20 feet high (estimate) – I knew something was going on.”  

Bucic also chairs the Delaware City Environmental Coalition (DCEC).  That group has received funding to conduct a two-week air monitoring study in March of next year.  The results of that independent study will then be compared with similar monitoring DCEC performed in March of this year.  “Our study is not meant to be conclusive but to give us more information as to what the refinery possibly contributes [to pollution],” she says. 

One source of concern for Bucic and others in the community following Sunday’s incident was the failure of the refinery’s community information line which is designed to provide information to the public about events at the facility.  “That was very unfortunate,” says Seedorf.  “There’s a back-up generator that was supposed to go on, and for some reason on that particular night, the back-up generator didn’t come on.”  

Determining the cause of the generator failure is just one item on a list of things refinery workers will follow up on after the incident.  “We’re going to find a couple of other things that we’ll need to address to make it a world-class facility, and we’ll continue to address those.”

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