Company in Puerto Rico Oil Explosion Has Record of Environmental ViolationsNov 11, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Caribbean Petroleum Corp., the company at the center of a massive explosion and fire in Puerto Rico last month, has a spotty environmental record. According to The Miami Herald, over the last ten years, Caribbean Petroleum Corp. has been cited for major environmental violations that have cost it a total of $1.3 million in penalties and fines.
The Caribbean Petroleum Corp. explosion occurred around 12:30 a.m. on October 23 at the company’s gasoline warehouse and distribution center in Catano, just outside of San Juan. According to the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, the blast produced a shock wave equivalent to a 2.8 magnitude earthquake. The explosion was so strong that it tore up a nearby highway, and shattered windows on nearby homes. Twenty-one of 40 tanks at the facility used to store jet fuel, bunker fuel and gasoline were destroyed or damaged by the fire.
Two people were injured as a result of the explosion. The fire, which burned for nearly three days, produced plumes of thick, black smoke that filled the air with hazardous contaminants, including carbon monoxide and sulfur. Prevailing winds spread these contaminants to several areas of San Juan and adjacent municipalities, including Catano, Levittown, Toa Baja and Bayamon, exposing thousands to toxic fumes.
More than 1,500 people were evacuated. Many evacuees, some of whom were suffering from respiratory illnesses, were unable to return for several days. Many businesses were also forced to close. Residents of San Juan and the surrounding area were advised to keep windows shut and to stay indoors.
According to The Miami Herald, the Caribbean Petroleum facility in last month's explosion had not been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 2000. Since 1990, the National Response Center, an entity that reports oil, chemical, radiological, and biological spills, has recorded at least 25 oil spills at Caribbean Petroleum facilities. Yet despite its long record of environmental violations involving penalties and fines for leaking hazardous waste in the water, air and soil, Caribbean Petroleum has been allowed to run for nearly a decade without safety inspections or an emergency community disaster plan, in violation of federal law, the Herald said.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Board is still investigating last month's explosion. A criminal act has been rule out as a cause, and the probe is now focusing on possible negligence and human error.