An Italian oil refinery owned by one of Italy’s largest oil companies erupted into a “ball of fire” for the third time in less than six months, once again underscoring the unreliability of fossil fuel infrastructure.
Just this year, numerous oil and gas leaks have taken place all the while those protesting against the controversial Dakota Access pipeline are fighting to protect the drinking water of millions from such damage. Though many of these leaks and spills have taken place within the US, fossil fuel infrastructure in other countries has also proven to be unsafe and unreliable in recent months. Yesterday, the Sannazzaro de’Burgondi oil refinery owned by Italy’s national oil company ENI was the site of a massive fire that was visible six miles away from the site of the blast. Emilio Sala, a local farmer who witnessed the fire, said that the flames were not very high at first but “then there was a series of bursts, with a lot of smoke and flames that reached far beyond the height of the chimneys, to more than 60 meters [~200 ft].” Sala told Ifattoquotidiano news that “we were afraid the fire would spread to the next reactor but luckily the internal systems must have worked. […] This is definitely the biggest fire they have had there.”
Incidentally, fires at this refinery, one of the nation’s largest, are nothing new as two other large fires took place within days of each other this past July. The plant’s workers union has blamed the fires on the staff shortages and the lack of effective security as the oil company executives have consistently failed to allot the resources needed to keep their infrastructure safe and reliable. This dangerous company policy has led some politicians to call for an investigation. Angelo Bonelli, a Green Party MP, called for an investigation of all of Italy’s refineries, not just the site of the most recent accident, saying “Too many refineries in our country suffer major accidents that pose an urgent need to investigate.” Bonelli’s suggestion seems prudent as, this past September, the Milazzo refinery was also the site of a massive fire which cut off traffic and led to panic and evacuations.
Within several hours, the fire was luckily under control and did not spread to other parts of the refinery, likely due to an internal safety system which thankfully worked. Also fortunate was that no injuries were reported, unlike July’s fires which burned several workers. The cause of the fire is now being investigated and ambulances have responded to treat any health issues locals may have suffered to the inhalation of toxic fumes. The company claims it will monitor air quality around the refinery, though some have questioned whether or not they can be counted on to provide a reliable measure as the accident itself is known to be a result of company negligence. How can a company that has let such accidents become a regular occurrence be trusted to monitor the area’s safety? Frankly, oil and gas companies, regardless of their nationality, consistently put their profits over the safety of people and the environment, as evidenced by the ongoing fight over the Dakota Access pipeline as well as series of costly accidents around the world.
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