Emergency plan in the refinery presumably failed
Ex Amuay manager and workers regret slow response
Eulogio Del Pino, Pdvsa Vice-President of Production and Exploration, conceded that the gas leak "was detected in a tour at 12 in the night." The blast occurred shortly after 1:00 a.m.
"A leak of propane and butane gas was detected by regular reviews; there was staff going round (the facilities), and it was detected during an inspection at 12:00 in the night. And there was prompt response because of the visibility of the cloud. A white fog could be seen and a worker put his vehicle on reverse and reported it to the National Guard (GN) for them to stop the traffic on the freeway," Del Pino told state-owned TV channel VTV.
These remarks are consistent with the comments made by Jesús Luongo, general manager at the Paraguaná Refining Complex (CRP), and with the statements of Minister of Petroleum and Mining Rafael Ramírez.
In the opinion of Javier Larrañaga, former deputy manager at CRP, some questions arise from the technicians' words which indicate improper handling of the contingency.
"Why did the contingency plan, the evacuation plan, not start up? What happened at that time (12:00 1:10 a.m.)? Larrañaga wondered.
In addition to learning about the cause of the propane gas leak, its seriousness and the options to contain it, Larrañaga insisted on saying that "once there is the leak, there is the need to react, implement a contingency (plan) and evacuate everybody."
He is positive that this could have allowed the eviction of the GN command, deployed near the refinery, in a 15-minute term.
While acknowledging that the findings of the investigation must be waited, the expert, also the former manager of Maraven refining division, upheld that Pdvsa "has completely lost the culture of safety."
Based on the number of events from 2003 to date and the contents of Pdvsa Reports during these years, Larrañaga advises that the state company should "rescue a professional management" and the "best practices" for the purposes of safety, reliability and profitable operations.
He recounted that before 2003, Pdvsa would be governed by strict safety protocols, such as the Comprehensive Risk Management System (RMS). "There has been overall deterioration of management since 2003 (...) No safe, reliable operations are been ensured."
Iván Freites, secretary general of the Unified Trade Union of Oil-Sector Workers in Falcón State and a plant operator in Cardón refinery which also forms part of the CRP- maintained that prompt action must be taken in the event of a gas leak.
"The staff must leave the area, relieve the pressure from that equipment and take it out. This means bringing the operations to a halt; they should stop, and that did not happen."
Freites commented that "days before" the accident, both workers and GN officers reported on the smell of gas. He estimated that, given the magnitude of the explosion, the gas accumulated "for at least one day" in the area.
He pointed out as well that there are gas detectors and the workers who go round the tanks have this equipment available. Therefore, he suspects that the reports of the leak were made indeed, yet the operations kept on running until the accumulated gas mixed up with some component that sparked the blast.
Such a version provided by Freites is consistent with the opinion of sources related to the refinery, companies and neighboring communities. Sources linked to the CRP noted that the leak in the tank located in the olefins yard was detected in the small hours of Friday 24. They added that at 3:00 p.m. of that day, expert contractors were advised to take care of the event. Nevertheless, hours after, a decision was made to entrust the in-house personnel with the handling of the situation.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez ruled out last Sunday the testimony of local residents on a weird smell days before the blast. "You are suggesting something that is virtually impossible," Chávez fired back in reply to a journalist.
With reporting by Ernesto Tovar
President Nicolás Maduro is not only the heir to the throne, but also to an economic crisis which demanded urgent measures to rectify the course. The crisis showed up in two aspects: a 50% inflation estimate, and shortage of staples ranging between 70% and 98%. These issues might hit the President's poor popularity; considering his feeble electoral victory of 1% over his challenger.