4,000 Evacuated Near Heartland


Firefighters evacuated thousands of workers from nearby office buildings after a gasket failure led to a hydrogen sulfide gas leak on Monday morning at Heartland Petroleums rerefining facility in Columbus, Ohio.

Heartland last year opened the new rerefining facility, which hydrotreats used automotive oils and industrial oils to produce an estimated 15 to 20 million gallons annually (about 950 to 1,300 barrels per day) of API Group II+ base oils. The process that separates sulfur from the recycled oils creates hydrogen sulfide.

At approximately 8 a.m. this morning, we experienced a power interruption and initiated our re-start process, Heartland Petroleum said in a statement issued Monday. During that procedure, a gasket failed and a cloud of steam released. Because the steam contained low levels of hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide, we immediately implemented our safety plan and stabilized the system. Our safety plan involved evacuating our facility and notifying authorities and our neighbors.

According to the company, no employees were injured and all complied quickly with their emergency safety plan. Heartland stated it anticipated restarting the plant within the week.

Vikki Michalski, spokeswoman for power company American Electric Power, said that a breaker operation occurred briefly on the circuit that serves Heartland Petroleum. It was literally seconds – it would have been a blip, Michalski told Lube Report. They found a dead squirrel, and that could have caused the fault on the line. She noted that Heartland had last reported a power problem to AEP in July 2007.

Firefighters and a hazmat team arrived on the scene about 8:05 a.m. Monday, said Columbus Division of Fire Battalion Chief David Whiting.

We go in that area a lot of the time for foreign odors, gas type leaks, so thats a normal place for us to be, Whiting told Lube Report. This time we went there, and as they approached, we had a hydrogen cloud that was visible as we approached. We ended up evacuating over 4,000 people in the office buildings in that area right there. According to the fire department, three people were treated for minor symptoms at the scene, and one person was taken to Ohio State University Medical Center.

About 75 firefighters were still on the site by 4 p.m. Monday, when they turned the scene back over to EPA and Heartland Petroleums owners, Whiting continued. He noted that the fire department monitored the air on Monday but had ceased monitoring yesterday. When we got inside the plant, we didnt have any hydrogen readings at all, he noted.

According to the Ohio EPA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration
officials and an on-scene coordinator from Ohio EPA’s Division of Emergency and Remedial Response were at the site yesterday, working to determine the root cause of the gasket failure and the magnitude of the emissions.

Our latest information points to a failed gasket, not a broken rupture disk or break in the processing line as suspected yesterday, Ohio EPA’s Division of Air Pollution Control (Central District Office) explained in a statement provided to Lube Report. Per our conversation earlier today with the company, the facility is planning to clamp the broken connection and purge the system with nitrogen to evacuate any remaining residual oil. Once this is completed, facility personnel will examine the system, calculate the rate, magnitude and duration of yesterday’s release and make necessary repairs. The facility is shut down in its entirety, and it is not clear when it will re-start. The agency said it will be working closely with Heartland to ensure the situation doesnt reoccur.

Ohio EPAs John McGreevy said the Heartland Petroleum facility has been informed that it needs to notify the agency prior to restarting all or part of the system. McGreevy is supervisor of supervisor of permits and compliance for Ohio EPAs division of air pollution control, central district office. The company has also been asked to provide any additional information uncovered by its investigation and provide a full report and analysis of the issue when it is completed, McGreevy told Lube Report.

While the Ohio EPA had received some complaints about odor from the facility earlier this year, the agency emphasized Mondays incident was unrelated and unlike any previously-received complaints. While exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas doesn’t necessarily equate to health risk, it can – in high enough concentrations over long enough periods of time – potentially cause health effects, Ohio EPA noted.

Lube Report was unable to reach Heartland for comment by press time.

According to an OSHA fact sheet, hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable, extremely hazardous gas with a rotten egg smell. It occurs naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas and hot springs. Industrial activities that can produce the gas include petroleum/natural gas drilling and refining, wastewater treatment, coke ovens, and kraft paper mills. OSHA said that low and moderate concentrations irritate the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory system while high concentrations can cause more serious problems.

Founded in 1950 in Columbus, Heartland Petroleum is a family-owned and operated provider of used oil disposal, wastewater treatment and oil-water separator services. The company owns fuel terminals and plants in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.

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