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Government Concentrates

August 8, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 32

CSB investigates latest BP fire

Federal investigators have launched a probe into the July 28 explosion and fire at the BP Products North America Texas City, Texas, plant, the second such incident at the site this year. No injuries were reported in the blast, which occurred in a section of the 1,200-acre complex far away from the isomerization unit that exploded in March, killing 15 workers and injuring more than 170 others. Giby Joseph, an investigator with the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), says the latest explosion occurred in the reactor section of the plant's resid hydrotreating unit, when an 8-inch pipe connected to a heat exchanger failed at the flange. "Recycled gas, primarily hydrogen, was suddenly released when the pipe broke away. The hydrogen, under high pressure and temperature, was ignited, sending a large jet of fire shooting an estimated 75 feet," Joseph says. BP officials believe the installation of a carbon steel pipe spool on the outlet of the heat exchanger, instead of a more heat-tolerant chromium alloy steel pipe spool, resulted in the mechanical failure and explosion. The error apparently occurred in February during routine maintenance, and BP workers failed to notice the mistake before the unit was restarted. CSB has not yet confirmed that the pipe failure was due to an installation error, but a spokesman says, "There is no reason to doubt the company's statement."


EPA proposal would require emission trading

As a step toward implementing a major air pollution rule issued earlier this year, EPA last week proposed that power plants must join emission-trading programs. The Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which was finalized in March, places a cap on releases of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in 28 eastern states and the District of Columbia. SO2 is a cause of acid rain, NOx is a precursor to ground-level ozone (smog), and both air pollutants contribute to particulate-matter pollution. EPA's latest proposal would establish a federal plan requiring electricity-generating plants in these states to participate in programs to buy and sell emissions allowances. Once any state covered by CAIR implements its own program for meeting the rule's emission reductions, EPA would withdraw the federal plan for that state. The agency's proposal would require power plants to participate in trading programs for annual SO2 and NOx allowances. It also would require participation in a separate program for NOx allowances during the summer ozone season.

EPA gets new political appointees

EPA has two new high-ranking officials, and the nomination of a third is pending Senate approval. In late July, the Senate confirmed Marcus A. Peacock as deputy administrator--the second in command at the agency--and Granta Y. Nakayama as assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. Peacock comes to EPA from the White House Office of Management & Budget, where he reviewed budgets and policies of EPA and other federal agencies that address natural resources, energy, and science. Peacock was one of six Administration officials who in 2001 suggested a strategy for President George W. Bush to abandon his 2000 campaign pledge supporting controls on carbon dioxide emissions. Nakayama, the new "top cop" at EPA, was a partner for environmental law and product safety at the Washington, D.C., law office of Kirkland & Ellis, where he represented industry clients. Meanwhile, Bush has nominated George M. Gray, executive director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, to head EPA's Office of Research & Development.

Asian economies drive growth in energy use

Led by rapid growth in Asia, worldwide energy consumption is projected to increase 57% between 2002 and 2025, according to the Energy Information Administration's 2005 international energy outlook. The forecast expects growth to more than double in the emerging economies of the world, such as China and India. In contrast, slower growth in energy demand--a combined 27% increase--is projected for the U.S. and other mature market economies. EIA says energy use in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union will increase 45% as a result of slow or declining population growth and strong gains in energy efficiency. Clean-burning natural gas is expected to experience the fastest growth of any energy component, with consumption expanding almost 70% from 92 trillion to 156 trillion cu ft. The industrial sector will account for 36% of the total growth in natural gas demand. World oil use is forecast to grow from 78 million to 119 million barrels per day, with the U.S. and China and other Asian nations accounting for 63% of the projected growth. The report is available at


◾ Labor and environmental groups are calling for North Carolina to investigate how perflurooctanoic acid ended up in wells and the Cape Fear River near DuPont's Fayetteville, N.C., plant. The facility is the only U.S. manufacturing site for the chemical, a surfactant in production of polytetrafluoroethylene, including DuPont's Teflon.

◾ The National Research Council reports that world competition in materials R&D could weaken the U.S. position in the field. In its study, NRC suggests the U.S. needs to become more active in international projects, encourage foreign researchers to participate in U.S. projects, and ensure that export control rules do not impede progress. The study, "Globalization of Materials R&D," is available at

◾ The Department of Energy is not likely to achieve the $50 billion savings goal of its accelerated plan for nuclear waste cleanup, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO-05-764). GAO reports that delays, missed assumptions, and revised calculations have greatly reduced the anticipated cost reductions.




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