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One injured in Texas Petrobras refinery blast

07 March 2016

A worker received burn injuries to his hands during an explosion on March 5 at the Pasadena Refining System refinery in Texas, owned by Brazil's national oil company Petrobras. The explosion caused extensive damage to a 35,000 bpd light cycle oil hydrogen desulphurisation unit, which uses hydrogen to convert oil into diesel and remove sulphur.

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"The fire has been contained and the facility is in a safe condition," the company said. "Authorities have been notified and are supporting the response. Air monitoring has been conducted by Pasadena Refining and Harris County Pollution Control, with no indications of any off-site impacts."

The Houston Ship Channel closed briefly as Coast Guard hazmat teams investigated the scene for any impact from possible chemical release in the air or any impact on the waterways. It reopened soon after

The Houston Chronicle reported that the refinery's operating permit under the Clean Air Act and issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had lapsed and the company was applying for a permit renewal, but a Petrobras spokeswoman denied the company lacked the proper permits to operate the refinery.

The plant suffered an explosion in December 2011 and has paid $1.1 million in fines since 2010. Seven emission events from the plant have been reported to the TCEQ since last October and there have been 60 such events since 2005.

The 100,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery has been linked to the corruption scandal that has engulfed the Brazilian government with accusations that a significant portion of the $1.2 billion Petrobras paid for the plant, first as a joint-venture and then under its sole ownership, was returned as bribes to Brazilian officials, according to legal proceedings in Brazil.

The $1.2 billion Petrobras paid contrasts with the $42 million Astra Oil paid a year before.  The scandal has led to dozens of arrests and convictions, and has fuelled calls for the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, who chaired the company until 2010.

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