Land Use Laws (what can happen when they’re ignored)

The following, courtesy of Chip Northrup ‘s blog (www.shaleshockmedia.org) No Fracking Way, demonstrates the urgent need for land use laws related to such potentially catastrophic industrial processes as fracking.

The prime example is the tragic mid-April, 2013  explosion of a fertilizer plant in the small rural town of West,  Texas — a plant that was located right adjacent to a residential area and (disregarding strict rules and regulations) stored over a thousand times as much potentially explosive material as permitted by law.

VIDEO AND ANALYSIS: WHAT CAN HAPPEN   –AND HOW AND WHY — WHEN A CORPORATION IGNORES LAWS INTENDED TO PROTECT A VULNERABLE LOCAL POPULATION  (14 KILLED IN WEST, TX — Governor Perry stated that the disaster touched every single family in that town.

By Joshua Schneyer, Ryan McNeill and Janet Roberts                 NEW YORK, April 20 (Reuters) –

The fertilizer plant that  exploded on Wednesday, obliterating part of a small Texas town  and killing at least 14 people, had last year been storing 1,350  times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger  safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security  (DHS).     

Yet a person familiar with DHS operations said the company  that owns the plant, West Fertilizer, did not tell the agency  about the potentially explosive fertilizer as it is required to  do, leaving one of the principal regulators of ammonium nitrate  – which can also be used in bomb making – unaware of any danger  there.   

The Law:  Fertilizer plants and depots must report to the DHS when  they hold 400 lb (180 kg) or more of the substance. Filings this  year with the texas Department of State Health Services, which  weren’t shared with DHS, show the plant had 270 tons of it on  hand last year.

A U.S. congressman and several safety experts called into  question on Friday whether incomplete disclosure or regulatory  gridlock may have contributed to the disaster.                 “It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid,”  Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-MS), ranking member of the house   Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. “This  facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold  amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility  Anti-Terrorism Standards Act (CFATS), yet we understand that DHS  did not even know the plant existed until it blew up.”

Company officials did not return repeated calls seeking  comment on its handling of chemicals and reporting practices.

Late on Friday, plant owner Donald Adair released a general  statement expressing sorrow over the incident but saying West Fertilizer would have little further comment while it cooperated  with investigators to try to determine what happened.                 “This tragedy will continue to hurt deeply for generations  to come,” Adair said in the statement.

Failure to report significant volumes of hazardous chemicals  at a site can lead the DHS to fine or shut down fertilizer  operations, a person familiar with the agency’s monitoring  regime said. Though the DHS has the authority to carry out spot  inspections at facilities, it has a small budget for that and  only a “small number” of field auditors, the person said.

Firms are responsible for self reporting the volumes of  ammonium nitrate and other volatile chemicals they hold to the  DHS, which then helps measure plant risks and devise security  and safety plans based on them.                 Since the agency never received any so-called top-screen  report from West Fertilizer, the facility was not regulated or  monitored by the DHS under its CFAT standards, largely designed  to prevent sabotage of sites and to keep chemicals from falling  into criminal hands.

The DHS focuses “specifically on enhancing security to  reduce the risk of terrorism at certain high-risk chemical  facilities,” said agency spokesman Peter Boogaard. “The West  Fertilizer Co. facility in West, Texas is not currently  regulated under the CFATS program.”

The West Fertilizer facility was subject to other reporting,  permitting and safety programs, spread across at least seven  state and federal agencies, a patchwork of regulation that  critics say makes it difficult to ensure thorough oversight.

An expert in chemical safety standards said the two major  federal government programs that are supposed to ensure chemical  safety in industry – led by the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) –  do not regulate the handling or storage of ammonium nitrate.  That task falls largely to the DHS and the local and state  agencies that oversee emergency planning and response.                 More than 4,000 sites nationwide are subject to the DHS  program.                 “This shows that the enforcement routine has to be more  robust, on local, state and federal levels,” said the expert,  Sam Mannan, director of process safety center at Texas A&M  University. “If information is not shared with agencies, which  appears to have happened here, then the regulations won’t work.”                                 HODGEPODGE OF REGULATION                 Chemical safety experts and local officials suspect this  week’s blast was caused when ammonium nitrate was set ablaze.  Authorities suspect the disaster was an industrial accident, but  haven’t ruled out other possibilities.                 The fertilizer is considered safe when stored properly, but  can explode at high temperatures and when it reacts with other  substances.                 “I strongly believe that if the proper safeguards were in  place, as are at thousands of (DHS) CFATS-regulated plants  across the country, the loss of life and destruction could have  been far less extensive,” said Rep. Thompson.                 A blaze was reported shortly before a massive explosion  leveled dozens of homes and blew out an apartment building.                 A U-Haul truck packed with the substance mixed with fuel oil   exploded to raze the Oklahoma federal building in 1995. Another  liquid gas fertilizer kept on the West Fertilizer site,  anhydrous ammonia, is subject to DHS reporting and can explode  under extreme heat.                 Wednesday’s blast heightens concerns that regulations  governing ammonium nitrate and other chemicals – present in at  least 6,000 depots and plants in farming states across the  country – are insufficient. The facilities serve farmers in  rural areas that typically lack stringent land zoning controls,  many of the facilities sit near residential areas.                 Apart from the DHS, the West Fertilizer site was subject to  a hodgepodge of regulation by the EPA, OSHA, the U.S. Department  of Transportation, the Texas Department of State health  Services, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the  Office of the Texas State Chemist.                 But the material is exempt from some mainstays of U.S.  chemicals safety programs. For instance, the EPA’s Risk  Management Program (RMP) requires companies to submit plans  describing their handling and storage of certain hazardous  chemicals. Ammonium nitrate is not among the chemicals that must  be reported.                 In its RMP filings, West Fertilizer reported on its storage  of anhydrous ammonia and said that it did not expect a fire or  explosion to affect the facility, even in a worst-case scenario.  And it had not installed safeguards such as blast walls around  the plant.                 A separate EPA program, known as Tier II, requires reporting  of ammonium nitrate and other hazardous chemicals stored above  certain quantities. Tier II reports are submitted to local fire  departments and emergency planning and response groups to help  them plan for and respond to chemical disasters. In Texas, the  reports are collected by the Department of State Health  Services. Over the last seven years, according to reports West  Fertilizer filed, 2012 was the only time the company stored  ammonium nitrate at the facility.                 It reported having 270 tons on site.                 “That’s just a god awful amount of ammonium nitrate,” said  Bryan Haywood, the owner of a hazardous chemical consulting firm  in Milford, Ohio. “If they were doing that, I would hope they  would have gotten outside help.”                 In response to a request from Reuters, Haywood, who has been  a safety engineer for 17 years, reviewed West Fertilizer’s Tier  II sheets from the last six years. He said he found several  items that should have triggered the attention of local  emergency planning authorities – most notably the sudden  appearance of a large amount of ammonium nitrate in 2012.                 “As a former HAZMAT coordinator, that would have been a red  flag for me,” said Haywood, referring to hazardous materials.     (Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston, Timothy  Gardner and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington, and Selam Gebrekidan  and Michael Pell in New York; Editing by Mary Milliken and  Robert Birsel)

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

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By Joshua Schneyer, Ryan McNeill and Janet Roberts                 NEW YORK, April 20 (Reuters) – The fertilizer plant that  exploded on Wednesday, obliterating part of a small Texas town  and killing at least 14 people, had last year been storing 1,350  times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger  safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security  (DHS).                 Yet a person familiar with DHS operations said the company  that owns the plant, West Fertilizer, did not tell the agency  about the potentially explosive fertilizer as it is required to  do, leaving one of the principal regulators of ammonium nitrate  – which can also be used in bomb making – unaware of any danger  there.                 Fertilizer plants and depots must report to the DHS when  they hold 400 lb (180 kg) or more of the substance. Filings this  year with the texas Department of State Health Services, which  weren’t shared with DHS, show the plant had 270 tons of it on  hand last year.                 A U.S. congressman and several safety experts called into  question on Friday whether incomplete disclosure or regulatory  gridlock may have contributed to the disaster.                 “It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid,”  Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-MS), ranking member of the house   Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. “This  facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold  amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility  Anti-Terrorism Standards Act (CFATS), yet we understand that DHS  did not even know the plant existed until it blew up.”                 Company officials did not return repeated calls seeking  comment on its handling of chemicals and reporting practices.  Late on Friday, plant owner Donald Adair released a general  statement expressing sorrow over the incident but saying West Fertilizer would have little further comment while it cooperated  with investigators to try to determine what happened.                 “This tragedy will continue to hurt deeply for generations  to come,” Adair said in the statement.                 Failure to report significant volumes of hazardous chemicals  at a site can lead the DHS to fine or shut down fertilizer  operations, a person familiar with the agency’s monitoring  regime said. Though the DHS has the authority to carry out spot  inspections at facilities, it has a small budget for that and  only a “small number” of field auditors, the person said.                 Firms are responsible for self reporting the volumes of  ammonium nitrate and other volatile chemicals they hold to the  DHS, which then helps measure plant risks and devise security  and safety plans based on them.                 Since the agency never received any so-called top-screen  report from West Fertilizer, the facility was not regulated or  monitored by the DHS under its CFAT standards, largely designed  to prevent sabotage of sites and to keep chemicals from falling  into criminal hands.                 The DHS focuses “specifically on enhancing security to  reduce the risk of terrorism at certain high-risk chemical  facilities,” said agency spokesman Peter Boogaard. “The West  Fertilizer Co. facility in West, Texas is not currently  regulated under the CFATS program.”                 The West Fertilizer facility was subject to other reporting,  permitting and safety programs, spread across at least seven  state and federal agencies, a patchwork of regulation that  critics say makes it difficult to ensure thorough oversight.                 An expert in chemical safety standards said the two major  federal government programs that are supposed to ensure chemical  safety in industry – led by the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) –  do not regulate the handling or storage of ammonium nitrate.  That task falls largely to the DHS and the local and state  agencies that oversee emergency planning and response.                 More than 4,000 sites nationwide are subject to the DHS  program.                 “This shows that the enforcement routine has to be more  robust, on local, state and federal levels,” said the expert,  Sam Mannan, director of process safety center at Texas A&M  University. “If information is not shared with agencies, which  appears to have happened here, then the regulations won’t work.”                                 HODGEPODGE OF REGULATION                 Chemical safety experts and local officials suspect this  week’s blast was caused when ammonium nitrate was set ablaze.  Authorities suspect the disaster was an industrial accident, but  haven’t ruled out other possibilities.                 The fertilizer is considered safe when stored properly, but  can explode at high temperatures and when it reacts with other  substances.                 “I strongly believe that if the proper safeguards were in  place, as are at thousands of (DHS) CFATS-regulated plants  across the country, the loss of life and destruction could have  been far less extensive,” said Rep. Thompson.                 A blaze was reported shortly before a massive explosion  leveled dozens of homes and blew out an apartment building.                 A U-Haul truck packed with the substance mixed with fuel oil   exploded to raze the Oklahoma federal building in 1995. Another  liquid gas fertilizer kept on the West Fertilizer site,  anhydrous ammonia, is subject to DHS reporting and can explode  under extreme heat.                 Wednesday’s blast heightens concerns that regulations  governing ammonium nitrate and other chemicals – present in at  least 6,000 depots and plants in farming states across the  country – are insufficient. The facilities serve farmers in  rural areas that typically lack stringent land zoning controls,  many of the facilities sit near residential areas.                 Apart from the DHS, the West Fertilizer site was subject to  a hodgepodge of regulation by the EPA, OSHA, the U.S. Department  of Transportation, the Texas Department of State health  Services, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the  Office of the Texas State Chemist.                 But the material is exempt from some mainstays of U.S.  chemicals safety programs. For instance, the EPA’s Risk  Management Program (RMP) requires companies to submit plans  describing their handling and storage of certain hazardous  chemicals. Ammonium nitrate is not among the chemicals that must  be reported.                 In its RMP filings, West Fertilizer reported on its storage  of anhydrous ammonia and said that it did not expect a fire or  explosion to affect the facility, even in a worst-case scenario.  And it had not installed safeguards such as blast walls around  the plant.                 A separate EPA program, known as Tier II, requires reporting  of ammonium nitrate and other hazardous chemicals stored above  certain quantities. Tier II reports are submitted to local fire  departments and emergency planning and response groups to help  them plan for and respond to chemical disasters. In Texas, the  reports are collected by the Department of State Health  Services. Over the last seven years, according to reports West  Fertilizer filed, 2012 was the only time the company stored  ammonium nitrate at the facility.                 It reported having 270 tons on site.                 “That’s just a god awful amount of ammonium nitrate,” said  Bryan Haywood, the owner of a hazardous chemical consulting firm  in Milford, Ohio. “If they were doing that, I would hope they  would have gotten outside help.”                 In response to a request from Reuters, Haywood, who has been  a safety engineer for 17 years, reviewed West Fertilizer’s Tier  II sheets from the last six years. He said he found several  items that should have triggered the attention of local  emergency planning authorities – most notably the sudden  appearance of a large amount of ammonium nitrate in 2012.                 “As a former HAZMAT coordinator, that would have been a red  flag for me,” said Haywood, referring to hazardous materials.     (Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston, Timothy  Gardner and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington, and Selam Gebrekidan  and Michael Pell in New York; Editing by Mary Milliken and  Robert Birsel)

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

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Following the photo is a short video of a 35,000 gallon propane tank explosion (the photographer was unaware that he was in grave danger)

 

The Case For Land Use Laws

The tragic explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas is a grim example of what happens when hazardous industrial land uses are not kept away from residences. If the plant was there first, the houses, including the apartment house to the left of the picture, should not have been permitted. If the houses were there first, the plant should not have been permitted. When it caught fire, local volunteer firefighters, including a professional Dallas fireman who lived in the town, rushed to put it out – and were killed by an intense industrial explosion that they were completely unprepared to deal with – the second part of this preventable tragedy. (The third is that the plant was a serial violator of safety rules that were haphazardly enforced.)

In New York state, the proposed setback of gas field infrastructure – including gas processing plants, gathering lines, and high pressure gas compressors – is zero. Any infrastructure other than the well itself can be located next to a house, next to a hospital, in a residential neighborhood – anywhere.

Why, you may ask? Because that’s the way the frackers wrote the regulations for their moles inside the DEC! 

That alone is sufficient reason to ban shale gas industrialization in a town. No “health impact study” necessary for that. No peer reviewed science. Just a bit of common sense – to be learned from the West, Texas tragedy.

plant explosion

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