Revisiting The Fuel Storage Blaze

In October of last year, a fuel storage facility in Puerto Rico erupted into flames. It started with an explosion that registered a 2.8 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale and burned for more than three days. A mushroom cloud of burnt fuel hovered over the island, emitting clouds of dark fumes that turned the sunset redder than usual.

Everyone in Puerto Rico was in shock at the magnitude of the fire. The aftermath of the incident sent a mini-panic among motorists. To make matters worse, a few gas stations closed shop in anticipation of a rising gas price. Government officials, however, were quick to allay the public’s fears. US President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in the island which freed up federal aid while Luis Fortuno, the Governor in Puerto Rico, announced an increase of a million gallons each for diesel and premium gasoline for the island to make up for the fuel lost in the fire.

There were calls for investigation of those who were responsible for the conflagration. Fingers were pointed at the owner of the fuel storage units, Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO)–a major player in the fuel distribution business in the island. The company has been cited multiple times for “serious environmental violation,” including the dumping of hazardous wastes.

Here are some of EPA’s findings of CAPECO’s previous violations:

1993-1997: one of the company owned gas stations in Utuado contaminated the Rio Grande in Arecibo, pumping between “5,000 and 20,000” gallons of fuel, which affected 263 residents’ health, according to a civil suit.

1996: the company entered into an agreement with the EPA to address soil and water contamination at the facility.

1998: the EPA levied $52,000 in penalties and fines after the facility was cited for violations under the Clean Water Act shortly after hurricane George.

1999: EPA levies $1.3 million in penalties and fines for an array of violations. The case was referred to the U.S. Department of Justice.
2001:The company and its subsidiaries sought bankruptcy Chapter 11 protection.

1990-2009: EPA’s National Response Center has reported at least 25 reports of leakages and explosions, 19 of them after 2000 when the company was heading towards bankruptcy.

2008-2009: bankruptcy court orders $1.3 million compensation to 30 residents living in Utuado, where a leak took place and residents, according to a civil lawsuit, alleged health problems afterwards.

2009: 21 storage tanks exploded igniting a fire that lasted 60 hours, where water and air contamination took place. The incident is under investigation.

Posted below are roadside pictures of the storage facility several months after the blaze:

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