Worker Killed at Total's Texas Refinery

Port Arthur, Texas

By Reuters 2015-09-05 18:06:25

Total SA cut production at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery on Saturday after a contract worker was killed when the bulldozer he was driving in a pit beneath a giant refining unit flipped over in petroleum coke and coarse dust, said sources familiar with plant operations.

Total and the worker's employer, Kinder Morgan Inc, both confirmed the worker's death. Kinder Morgan operates a petroleum coke terminal in Port Arthur.

Total's Tricia Fuller said coker operations were at minimal rates and operators had stopped taking coke from the unit due to the death.

The sources said production at the 225,500 barrel per day (bpd) refinery's other units had been reduced.

"We will restart (the coker) once we know it can be operated safely," Fuller said.

The coker was not damaged in the incident, the sources said.

Investigators from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were expected to open an investigation on Saturday, Fuller said.

Generally, U.S. refineries do not need permission from safety or environmental regulators to resume production following a fatality.

Bulldozers were being used to push coke and coarse sand-like coke dust from beneath the 60,000 bpd delayed coking unit because a crane, the owner of which was unknown on Saturday, that is usually used to remove coke from the pit, had been shut for repairs for several months, the sources said.

Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Sara Hughes said she had no further information about the accident beyond confirmation of the worker's death.

"An investigation is being conducted," Hughes said.

Petroleum coke, which can be used as a coal substitute, is made from the thick, black residual crude that remains after all refinable material has been obtained from it.

In a delayed coking unit, residual crude is injected into giant drums where it is heated until it hardens, a process that usually takes 24-48 hours.

The coke is knocked out of the drums by high pressure jets of scalding water and falls into the coke pit beneath.

Total is currently seeking a partner to purchase a 50-percent stake in the Port Arthur Refinery.