Plumes of Smoke and Slurry Highlight Dangers

The process of extracting and refining natural resources is often a messy and dangerous one.  Events in Peru, Brazil, and California highlight this reality.

Antamina Mine

Two weeks ago in Peru, a pipeline carrying zinc and copper mineral slurry ruptured, shooting an 80 foot spray of mining material into the air.  The disaster, which directly exposed 200 people to toxic materials, occurred 14,000 ft. in the Andes at the Antamina mine: one the world’s largest copper-zinc mines.  The mine is owned by a collection of multinational firms including Xstrata, Teck Cominco LTd and Mitsubishi Corp.

Radio PSA [audio]

On Monday, 6 Aug, another pipeline burst at Chevron’s Richmond refinery, creating an explosion and sending a plume of black smoke over the eastern skies of the San Francisco Bay.  The leak began slowly, as workers tried to contain the problem without having to shut down the lines.  “It wasn’t visible, you wouldn’t be able to see it or smell it. So at that point in time, there was really nothing that we could advise the community to do,” said Mark Ayers, the refinery’s chief of emergency services.  But the leak caught fire, crippling the plant, which processes 1/8 of all west coast oil and is California’s third largest.  Surrounding communities were forced to stay indoors to protect themselves from the toxic plume.  The disaster marks the third leak in the last thirteen years.  In 2007, another fire erupted for nearly 10 hours.  Earlier in 1999, a blaze of toxic materials sent more than 1,200 Richmond residents to emergency rooms.

Chevron is also facing troubles in Brazil after an underwater leak at an oil rig operated by Transocean spilled an estimated 155,000 gallons of crude oil into the Atlantic.  This week, a federal court gave Chevron and the Swiss owned Transocean, 30 days to suspend all operations in the country.  The company will be fined $244 million for each day it fails to comply.  In April, a Brazilian prosecutor filed an $11 billion lawsuit against the company for the spills, which occurred in November and March.  The fate of these companies in Brazil is still very uncertain, as the nation attempts to expand exploration along its coast.

From developed countries to the developing and the in between, these mishaps are a dangerous reality of the global supply chain.  How firms respond to these externalities will be telling of its sustainability.

~~~~ Snip ~~~~

Follow Up

Staff saved lives after Venezuela refinery blast: Ramirez

Another refinery disaster

August 28, 2012

Marianna Parraga, Reuters

PARAGUANA, Venezuela (Reuters) – Veteran staff at Venezuela’s biggest refinery raised the alarm about a gas leak before an explosion tore through the facility and killed 48 people, helping management save lives, the energy minister said on Tuesday

On Monday Chavez said he had created a $23 million fund to help pay for cleanup operations and to repair damaged houses. He also said 257 new homes would be made available in the coming weeks for families who lost theirs, 60 of them immediately.


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