The U.S. Chemical Safety Board could release a final draft report on the deadly Williams Olefins plant fire more than two years ago in Geismar by the first quarter of 2016.
A board investigative team is “very close” to distributing the draft report for internal review, which happens before the report is sent to the board, board spokeswoman Shauna Lawhorne, said Thursday.
The independent federal agency based in Washington, D.C., investigates chemical industry accidents and tries to determine their root cause but has been riven by internal problems over the past two to three years. An update on the Williams and other investigations came to light Wednesday when the board met in Washington.
Tom Droege, spokesman for the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams, said the Geismar plant “cooperated in a full and transparent manner” with the CSB investigation.
“We will certainly review the CSB report once it is made available to us,” Droege said.
The explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins facility at La. 30 and La. 3115 on the Ascension-Iberville parish line prompted a series of state and federal probes. The company paid the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration reduced fines of $36,000 and the state Department of Environmental Quality more than $194,000 for a series of problems going back to 2008 but including those related to the 2013 fire.
The June 13, 2013, explosion killed two and injured more than 100 people after a 200-foot-high fireball ignited from a flammable vapor cloud leaking out of ruptured equipment at the plant.
Lawhorne said more than 30,000 pounds of flammable hydrocarbons were released.
Investigators have pointed to an idled reboiler that failed catastrophically as the source of the release.
A series of lawsuits have alleged the company ignored internal warnings to upgrade the reboiler and its pressure relief system. The company has said it responded to those warnings appropriately.
The fire happened as the plant was undergoing a major capacity expansion. Williams finished repairs from the fire and the expansion and restarted the plant in February.
The Williams fire also happened as turmoil was building over the safety board’s management; its low employee morale, which cut into its stable of experienced investigators; and the board’s lack of aggressiveness in pursuing and finishing investigations.
A series of inspector general audits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlines these problems. Two board members stepped down earlier this year, and two top executives were put on leave while new leadership took hold and new investigators were hired.
The Williams fire is one of six pending CSB investigations, with the oldest dating back to April 2010, an EPA audit released Thursday says.