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Minor Fire and Gas Leak Cause Alarms to Sound at Hovensa

July 20, 2005 – Alarms at Hovensa attracted the attention of St. Croix residents Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, raising rumors that the refinery was being evacuated.
However, according to Hovensa Vice President Alex Moorhead, both events were minor and quickly resolved.
Moorhead added that, according to Hovensa safety procedures, alarms are sounded whenever there is reason to believe the fire brigade should be alerted.
Probably most alarming for residents were the sirens that sounded a little after 7 p.m. Tuesday — just as a thunderstorm struck the island. According to Moorhead, it was lightning that set off a fire at the refinery, but it was quickly extinguished without any damage being done.
Then at 11:20 a.m. Wednesday, according to a written statement that day from Moorhead, butane was detected in an area near a butane storage tank on the west side of the refinery.
As a precaution, a vapor cloud alarm was sounded. The vapor cloud alarm is a continuous-sounding horn signaling all persons in the area to leave and for all maintenance activity and vehicular traffic in the refinery to stop until the leak of a gas has been stopped. As a further precaution, the Police Department was requested to close the Containerport Road, the public road that connects the Containerport to the Melvin Evans Highway.
Moorhead said, "No one has been injured as the result of this incident, and there is no fire resulting from the release of butane. The release of butane is believed to be emanating from a leaking valve."
He said neither incident caused a plant evacuation although some employees concerned about the alarms did leave the refinery.
However, a release from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources said Hovensa had "reportedly evacuated its employees to the northwest of the plant and closed all access roads to the facility. DPNR Enforcement Officers immediately responded by assisting in traffic control."
The DPNR release Wednesday continued that Hovensa discovered that the packing in a pipe had blown out near a valve.
It further stated, "The refinery has since depressurized the line and replaced the packing resulting in a complete cease in the leak. A vapor cloud caused by the leak has since dissipated….Hovensa’s industrial hygienist had tested the area 200 feet downwind and found no indication of gas or any other component in the air. Based on their findings Hovensa determined that it was safe for employees to return to work and has reopened the access roads."
Butane is a colorless, flammable gas; it is one of several products that are made during the refining of crude oil.
The DPNR release said that it can cause dizziness and asphyxiation, and lung irritation if inhaled in high quantities.
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