The Firm . Filing: Valero boiler had history of problems

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Filing: Valero boiler had history of problems

TEXAS CITY — A boiler that exploded Friday night killing one person and injuring two others at Valero’s Texas City refinery had a history of problems, according to a court filing made on behalf of one of the injured workers.

Valero electrical technician Tommy Manis was killed when the concussion from the pressure blast slammed him into another part of the unit. Operator Michael Gibb and an unnamed contractor were injured in the blast.

During a hearing in Galveston County Court No. 1 before Judge Mary Nell Crapitto, Gibb’s attorney, Anthony Buzbee, argued his client had complained that the industrial boiler installed at the refinery in 2006 was racked with difficulties, including repeated instances when it would go offline and was troublesome to restart.

Buzbee said Gibb claims the refinery removed the boiler earlier this year for an overhaul, but the problems persisted even after it was reinstalled.

Valero is not named in the restraining order request, but Babcock and Wilcox Power Generation Group, which designed the boiler, and Halgo Power Inc., which built and installed the boiler, are named as plaintiffs.

Buzbee said Gibb “has been saying all along there are design problems with that boiler,” which included malfunctions during attempts to restart the boiler.

Crews were in the process of restarting the boiler Friday night when the blast happened, company officials said.

Buzbee said to Valero’s credit the oil refiner listened to complaints about problems with the boiler, and during the refinerywide overhaul of the Texas City facility in January sent the boiler in to Halgo to be rebuilt.

“The problem is it came back with the same design,” Buzbee said. “The design is where the problem is.”

In court documents, Gibb said he, Manis, another Valero employee and the contractor were attempting to restart the boiler when it exploded. Gibb was struck by flying debris and knocked unconscious.

Gibb suffered two large cuts to his head that required stitches and staples to close, as well as neck, shoulder and hip injuries, court documents claim.

The hearing Tuesday was a routine restraining order request seeking to prevent anyone from removing, moving or altering items from the scene of the blast. The judge granted the request.

While not named as a defendant in the initial court documents, the company would not comment on the status of the investigation or the boiler allegations made by Gibb, Valero spokesman Bill Day said.

“It’s Valero’s policy not to comment on operations that don’t have a material impact on production,” he said. “We are unable to disclose historical operational data on that particular boiler.”

“The investigation is going to be very thorough and probably very lengthy, and we probably won’t discuss any findings until it is concluded.”

While expressing sympathies and condolences to those killed or injured in the blast and their families, a Babcock and Wilcox spokesman said the company would not comment because of the investigation. Officials from Halgo did not return calls from The Daily News.

In addition to Valero’s internal investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration also is investigating. The agency declined to comment on the investigation, which must be completed within six months.

 

T. J. Aulds
Galveston Daily News
December 9, 2009