U.S. Chemical Safety Board Urges FERC to Address Hurricane Risks in Bulk-Power System Planning

Aug. 4, 2023
CSB asks FERC to address hurricane impact on chemical safety after incidents at Arkema and Bio-Lab facilities.

Citing two chemical safety incidents caused by extreme weather, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to address hurricanes and other high-wind extreme weather events in future updates to the Transmission System Planning Performance Requirements for the nation’s bulk-power system.

The CSB noted that FERC’s final rule issued on June 15, 2023, does not address extreme weather events beyond heat and cold. High wind events like hurricanes may occur independently of extreme heat and cold events and may significantly impact the reliability of the bulk-power system, which, in turn, can result in the release of hazardous chemicals from a facility due to loss of power and put workers and the surrounding community at serious risk.

CSB Chairperson Steve Owens said, “It is important for FERC to address hurricanes and other high-wind extreme weather events as soon as possible. The CSB has recently investigated two serious chemical releases that resulted from or were made worse by loss of power during hurricanes, and as extreme weather becomes increasingly more frequent, similar chemical accidents likely will occur in the future if the power system fails because of hurricanes or other high-wind events.”

The incidents Owens referred to are the Arkema facility in Crosby, Texas, and the Bio-Lab facility in Westlake, Louisiana.

Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, hit Texas on August 24, 2017, causing severe flooding. The Arkema chemical plant in Crosby lost power, leading to the decomposition and burning of organic peroxide products in a refrigerated trailer. This resulted in fires and 21 people seeking medical attention due to exposure to fumes. Approximately 35,000 pounds of organic peroxide combusted in three separate fires over several days.

In August 2020, Hurricane Laura's strong winds caused extensive damage to Bio-Lab, Inc.'s trichloroisocyanuric acid storage buildings in Westlake, Louisiana. Water exposure initiated a chemical reaction, leading to a fire and the release of hazardous chlorine gases. Power outages and failed backup generators worsened the situation, resulting in $250 million in damages.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating incidents and hazards that result, or may result, in the catastrophic release of extremely hazardous substances.

The CSB’s board members are appointed by the president subject to Senate confirmation. The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.

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