Learning from Disaster Series: Caribbean Petroleum

On October 23, 2009, a large explosion occurred at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO) facility in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, during the off-loading of gasoline from a tanker ship to the CAPECO tank farm onshore.

A 5-million gallon aboveground storage tank overflowed into a secondary containment dike. The gasoline spray aerosolized, forming a 107 acre vapour cloud, which ignited after reaching an ignition source in the wastewater treatment area of the facility.

The blast and fire formed multiple secondary explosions resulting in significant damage to 17 petroleum storage tanks and other equipment onsite. Eyewitness reports indicate that the fire burned for almost 60 hours. Petroleum products leaked into the soil, nearby wetlands and navigable waterways in the surrounding area. While there were no fatalities, the explosion damaged 300 nearby homes and businesses.

How did this happen?

CSB chairperson, Vanessa Allen Sutherland, said: “The CSB’s investigation found several operational and regulatory deficiencies contributed to the explosion at Caribbean Petroleum. We have recommended that EPA and OSHA require above ground storage tank facilities, like CAPECO, conduct risk assessments to determine the potential dangers of their operations to surrounding populations and sensitive environments.”

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