Speaking before the US House Armed Services Committee on February 26, the Secretary of the Navy, Elaine Chao, said that U.S. oil is “relatively well protected” from hurricanes.
“First of all, it is produced by people who work in hurricanes. So they know how to produce the oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. It is produced in the United States, it’s designed to survive hurricanes,” she said.
But testimony on the Cape Fear Energy Facility, which consumes 25% of the total manufacturing capacity at the Port of Wilmington, demonstrated that the government is also well-aware of the risks to the nation’s energy infrastructure.
On Monday, a representative from the US Coast Guard described the challenges faced in assisting the 50 workers at the plant in restoring its flaring operations.
During Hurricane Ida, parts of the plant’s flaring equipment failed and the personnel working there experienced their first direct exposure to toxic hazards. Following the disaster, environmental workers from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Guard, the Coast Guard and a number of utilities designed to cope with power outages performed a detailed assessment of how to address the incident, the Coast Guard said.
That assessment, provided by Daryl Rhodes, director of the George Washington University Project on Scientific and Industrial Investigation, concluded that restoring flaring operations without the proper management and conditioning equipment could cause a new severe hazard.
Rather than restore the equipment that keeps the air inside the plant free of corrosive gases, the report recommends the restarted flaring station be converted to allow the air inside to “manifest corrosive conditions” while still releasing the estimated 2 million pounds of sulfur dioxide released from the facility in September.
That could kill the maintenance workers, as well as destroy the experimental equipment intended to study the harmful effects of sulfur dioxide and permit power generators not from the facility to operate. Additionally, emission of sulfur dioxide from the facility would take sulfur dioxide production from the entire state of North Carolina nearly 300% above the normal volume.
“We’re very concerned about the impact on safety and that’s something we will continue to pursue as the Department of Defense,” Chao told the Armed Services Committee.
She called the flaring plant “one of the most complex in the United States.”
At Cape Fear, sulfur dioxide emissions accounted for 75% of the facility’s total, with a peak spike of more than 800,000 pounds.
Read more: CNN.com
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