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Canadian News: Shell’s responses need improvement (includes comment by a Shell Insider about the release of potentially deadly gas)

From Sherwood Park News (Canada)

Gas leaks lead to changes

by Conal MacMillan
Wednesday January 03, 2007

Shell has switched its emergency call-out system provider after the company had difficulties relaying messages to neighbours following two leaks at the Scotford upgrader last summer, according to a company spokesperson.

The company was upset with the ineffectiveness of the call-out to neighbouring residents in northern Strathcona County after a sour gas leak on Sept. 7, 2006, said Shell spokesperson Janet Annesley. Five days later the upgrader leaked more toxic sour gas – which smells like rotten eggs – and the system was put to use again.

“The first order of business following these two incidents was to replace the call-out system provider,” she said. “We were deeply unhappy with the call-out, as were residents, and that had to be addressed right away.”

By October, a new call-out system provider was in place, Annesley said.

But, the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) has directed Shell to test the system after the provincial agency’s investigation into the two leaks concluded last week.

EUB received eight complaints about Shell’s response to the two leaks – four for each, said EUB spokesperson Davis Sheremata.

“We did find that there could be significant improvements made in terms of (Shell’s) response,” he added. Some residents felt they were called too late and some weren’t called at all, he said. Other residents felt they didn’t receive enough information about what was happening and what they should do.

“We will do everything we can to ensure call-outs do everything intended,” Annesley said, adding the system will be tested in early 2007.

The EUB also directed Shell to update its information on all residents in the area.

The company already updates its information every second year, Annesley said.

The EUB investigation also found that the two incidents were caused by separate mechanical failures, Sheremata said.

“We didn’t find Shell to be in a state of non-compliance (with safety requirements),” he added. The first leak was caused by a faulty flange on the viewing port of a sulphur recovery unit, the investigation found.

The flange, which sits beneath the viewing glass of the port, had been closed by maintenance workers before they removed the glass in order to clean the inside of the port, Sheremata said.

When the workers started to remove the glass there was a leak in the flange and smoke and flames started to come out of the port before workers could replace the glass.

Five days later, on Sept. 12, 2006, sour gas leaked from a residue hydro cracker – which uses hydrogen to separate raw bitumen into its components, such as oil, so they can be processed.

The investigation found that a clamp holding a bypass line leading into the hydro cracker failed, Sheremata said. A bypass line was in use because the main line was being repaired.

EUB staff were on site immediately after both incidents to investigate, he said. “That these two incidents occurred so close (in time) to each other, we tried to look very, very closely at what happened and what could be done to prevent similar incidents from happening here in the future.”

The EUB has also directed Shell to conduct a plant-wide emergency response exercise. Shell conducts those exercises regularly, Annesley said. “The last drill that we conducted was in late November,” she added, noting they would have staged the drill regardless of the two leaks.

Shell is planning another emergency response drill for early 2007.

(COMMENT BY A SHELL INSIDER ON THIS NEWS REPORT: “Sour” gas is gas containing Hydrogen Sulphide or H2S, which is extremely toxic, causing death at concentrations as low as 100 parts per million (ie 0.01%). At very low concentrations (less than 50 parts per million) H2S smells like rotten eggs – at higher concentrations it cannot be smelled due to immediate damage to the nerve system)

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