Refinery Flaring-More Than Just About Safety

Litigation, North America

Refinery and chemical plant flares are essential process safety system components to combust excess hydrocarbons and other waste gases in an environmentally-sound manner. Residents living in close proximity to a refinery filed a lawsuit complaining about exposure to excessive and unreasonable flaring events. Baker & O'Brien evaluated the refinery operating and maintenance practices associated with specified flaring events - as compared to industry practices and government regulations - and provided written and oral testimony.

The processing of crude oil within a petroleum refinery is a complex operation that involves equipment operating at a range of pressures and temperatures, which the refiner must safely manage to avoid an uncontrolled release to the environment. Flare systems play a key role in this process as important safety devices used in petroleum refineries.

Excess hydrocarbon gases are combusted in the flare systems in a more environmentally-sound manner than the alternative of releasing the vapor directly into the atmosphere. However, one group of residents living near one U.S. refinery had an entirely different view of flares and filed a lawsuit against its neighboring refinery regarding several flaring events and their associated emissions.

Baker & O'Brien was retained to opine on: (1) the refinery operating practices and procedures associated with the specified flaring events; and (2) the related refinery operating, training, and maintenance practices to determine if they were consistent with industry practices and government regulations. In order to complete our assessment, we reviewed each of the incidents in detail to understand its cause(s), whether the refinery personnel acted to minimize flare emission impacts to the community, and whether they followed their own written procedures.

Following the development of an expert report and deposition testimony, the matter was settled.

Kevin P. Milburn

Senior Consultant, PRISM Services Manager

Petroleum Refining
Standard of Care / Accident / Incident Investigation / Litigation / Expert Witness Testimony / Operations and Maintenance
North America