From 1993 to 2001, American International Petroleum Corporation (AIPC) took the plant's production from 12,500 to 22,000 barrels per day. At the same time, however, management got greedy. In 1998, AIPC decided to invest in a big way in a Russian oil venture. According to sources, the company actively sought a 75 percent stake in the development of 17 oil and gas licenses in European Russia. In the early part of 2000, AIP announced that its Lake Charles refinery had begun operations by successfully processing the initial run of crude oil at the rate of 12,000 barrels/day. By 2004, however. American International Petroleum had filed for bankruptcy.
The Pelican Refinery
On December 31, 2004, AIPC announced the sale of the Lake Charles refinery to Refining Company L.L.C. for $9 million in cash. Pelican Refining Company L.L.C. was owned by NuCoastal Refining and Marketing Company and BayOil (USA) Limited, with Texas oil baron Oscar Wyatt and another owner at its head. Wyatt figured prominently in the "oil-for-food" scandal involving American oilmen paying illegal kickbacks to the late Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq so they could sell Iraqi oil. Wyatt pleaded guilty to wire fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission revoked APIC's stock registration in 2006. By 2009, the Lake Charles refinery's production was down to zero.
Asbestos in Oil Refineries
For the greater part of the 20th century, whenever combustion or excessive heat was a danger, asbestos was chosen as an insulator. Plants such as the American International Refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana, as a result, were frequently constructed with materials that contained asbestos. Along with being heat-proof and non-flammable, various types of asbestos are also especially resistant to chemical reactions. Ceiling tiles, insulation, work surfaces, even protective clothing, therefore, frequently were made with the fibrous mineral. And though the asbestos served its purpose well in preventing the spread of fire and in protecting people from high temperatures, it also exposed people who used it or worked around it to serious health risks.
For the most part, amosite was the kind of asbestos used. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of the asbestos family of minerals, which is commonly considered more prone to cause health problems than serpentine asbestos. Although it was outlawed in building materials in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was used for many years in labs and chemical plants throughout the country.
Asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto pipes and ductwork in the same way cement could. As long as asbestos transite remained solid, this form of asbestos posed little risk. With age, however, this transite becomes prone to becoming powdery, enabling tiny fibers to float into the atmosphere. In other words, such asbestos is friable, which is defined as easily pulverized. In addition, industrial kilns often were fabricated with friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
The Problem with Friable Asbestos
When they are friable, asbestos particles are easily dispersed in the air. Diseases like cancer can result from inhaling asbestos. In addition, inhaling asbestos has been shown to be the primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare and almost always fatal disease affecting the mesothelium, the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are linked to ingesting fibers of asbestos, which can occur if microscopic particles float in the air and land on food or in beverages.
Mounting pressure from researchers, citizen groups and the media resulted in regulations controlling the use of asbestos. When most oil refineries were built, however, asbestos was more common. And even now, asbestos from long ago may be the source of danger if it is not disposed of properly during demolition projects.
The Hidden Hazard of Asbestos
Unlike most workplace injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, asbestos-related illnesses can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to appear. The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases - a persistent cough, chest pain and difficulty breathing - may often be mistaken for those of other disorders. Therefore, it is extremely important for all that were employed by or lived around oil refineries such as American International Refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to ask their doctors for mesothelioma information. Such information can help doctors make accurate diagnoses; especially with mesothelioma, the sooner the diagnosis, the better the chances of survival with treatments like mesothelioma surgery.Sources
Hart's Petroleum Finance Week - American International Unit Pursues 75% Stake in Russian Project (Hart's Petroleum Finance Week, March 30, 1998)
hydrocarbons-technology.com - Lake Charles Refinery, LA, USA
KPLC 7 News - Feds execute search warrant on Pelican Refinery
Louisiana Bucket Brigade - Lake Charles and Norco, Louisiana Refineries
Market Wire - American International Petroleum Corporation and American International Refinery, Inc. Announce Completion of Sale of Lake Charles Refinery
SEC.gov - ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDING File No. 3-12491
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Energy Information Administration - Production Capacity of Operable Petroleum Refineries by State as of January 1, 2009