Letter: Safety at NuStar – True nature of the beast

POSTED: 01/19/12 1:37 PM

Dear Editor,

Numerous developments this week have prompted further questions about the human and financial consequences for the Dutch Government and local community in the event of a potential disaster at NuStar’s operations in St. Eustatius. They illustrate that Dutch authorities – credited by the local government and NuStar with infallible scrutiny when it comes to safety measures – are just as likely to fail as any other. Safety assurances made now are therefore later worthless in the event of a major emergency.

The first involves management failings of the chemicals packaging company in Moerdijk that went bankrupt after a chemical fire. According to a Safety Council Report: “Chemie-Pack failed to meet operating permit conditions and did not keep to its own policy of procedures.”

Sounds familiar?  NuStar Pipeline Operating Partnership LP recently agreed to pay a $450, 000 civil penalty to the United States Government to settle allegations that it did not have plans to deal with spills and environmental accidents for eight of its oil storage terminal facilities in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. The eventual cost of the Moerdijk clean-up has been estimated at 71 million euros.

Furthermore, local government has not escaped criticism by the same Safety Council report. It was not aware that the company was not meeting the conditions of its permit but did not increase supervision let alone close down the facility.

Responsibility

The second development is the cost of clean-up for the ecological and economic disaster created by the refinery in Curacao. Sold by its mainly Dutch owner last century for one guilder, the refinery will require significant funds from the Dutch Government for this purpose. It is another sober and salutary reminder that responsibility for petrochemical installations persists long after owners and management have left the scene.

The same principle of risk applies to the NuStar situation. This week David Smith, terminal manager assured us that “the project is still designed to meet the most sophisticated safety measures available and meet the most strenuous regulations in the world.” However, his assurances or rather those of his creative copy writer are baseless on the grounds that they do not reflect current safety measures and performance at the existing terminal facility.

NuStar boasts an accident free record at its current site. But lost time incidents (LTI’s) are neither reported nor analyzed to eliminate reoccurrence. This is the case for onshore as well as offshore operations. Incident reporting is a vital aspect of safety management since it forms the basis of prevention thereby avoiding serious accidents, loss of life and possibly major disasters.

‘Laid-back’

However, some NuStar employees have also been questioning safety at the current site. They describe the culture as ‘laid-back’ and focused on the wearing of safety goggles, safety helmets, and on little else. Over the last four weeks alone, divers have been sent down on numerous occasions to free mooring ropes wrapped round tug propellers. The cause for these unreported incidents is well known. For several years, the release mechanism for the jetty mooring has been defect. No attempt to renew this unsafe equipment has been initiated.

NuStar maintains that its safety procedures are consistent with the directive for above storage of flammable liquids in vertical cylindrical tanks. An integral element of this directive is the reporting of marine based incidents and accidents. So what faith do we have in their assurances?

One does not have to read between the lines to know that this expansion is all about quick dividends for shareholders and not about responsibility or care for the community. Given that NuStar does not have the working capital to deal with a full-blown disaster on Statia, how much and where are the substantial funds deposited by the company in escrow to cover the cost of potential disaster and clean-up? They do not exist.

Queen Beatrix

Queen Beatrix’s appeal to take better care of planet earth in her New Year wishes is being totally ignored on Golden Rock. “Selfishness and the tendency towards excess makes one blind to the damage to our natural environment and undermine communities,” she rightfully said.

If that were the case, one wonders why officials at her own Ministry for Environment and Water Management (VROM) have been told to accelerate and facilitate the process of granting permits locally. Corporate smoke screens can be just as deadly as the flames that eventually reveal their worthlessness.

I have been reliably informed that fire regulations and plans for existing NuStar terminal facilities were absolutely not up to scratch when St. Eustatius was part of the Netherlands Antilles. But the Island Government is happy to sign off permits for the new terminal on the Farm with or without these in place.

NuStar may well believe that it controls the Island Government through altruistic community gifts and vague corporate statements about safety and short-term economic benefits. It may even think it controls the Dutch VROM through the expensive lobby services of Ben Bot, former Minister in The Hague. But who will control a man-made or natural disaster that strikes its terminal facilities? Nobody and nothing!

Arrogance

Despite questions raised about the many unresolved safety issues in the local media, answers have not been forthcoming. For such a company that prides itself on community involvement, their silence is an admission of arrogance.

Statia is not ready to have its horizon, landscape, heritage, natural environment, people and pride obscured by ugly tanks and corporate greed. A government that falsely claims that it is only a handful of Statians who object to this corporate colonization, may well be reminded that it was a similar “handful” of voters who elected them. A rubber stamp for a firm whose creed does not reflect deed is not worth the risk. For such is the true nature of the beast.

James Russell

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