The oil refinery at Port Arthur, Texas, dates back to 1901, when a group of Pittsburgh men formed a consortium and chartered the Gulf Refining Company. By 1907, the plant was producing gasoline, kerosene and engine oil. By 1955, Gulf Oil was the nation's largest producer of ethylene. By 1960, the Port Arthur facility was refining 270,000 barrels of crude oil per day into 600 different products.
Clark Refining bought the refinery from Chevron in 1995, paying about $75 million for the refinery and its 4,000-acre site and another approximately $122 million for inventory and spare parts. By the end of the following year, it had increased crude oil throughput capability from approximately 178,000 barrels per day to 212,000 barrels. In 1997, Clark was ranked as the sixth-largest refiner in the United States. In 1998, Clark signed a deal with Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), which would supply Clark's newly finished coking unit with Mayan crude. Clark changed its name to Premcor in 2000. Today, the Port Arthur refinery is the nation's 12th largest, converting 287,000 barrels of crude per day.
Asbestos Litigation at Clark Refining
On February 1, 2010, the wife and children of a former Gulf Oil employee at the Port Arthur refinery filed suit against Chevron. The suit alleges that Shelton J. Fontenot was exposed to asbestos dust and fibers and died of pulmonary asbestosis and lung cancer as a result. Fontenot was a pipefitter, insulator trainee and instrument mechanic.
Clark Refining of Port Arthur and Asbestos
In much of the 20th century, various forms of asbestos were used as a building material when fire or temperature extremes were a concern. Oil refineries such as Clark Refining of Port Arthur, Texas, therefore, were often built using materials containing asbestos. A lesser-known property of some kinds of asbestos is that they resist chemical reactions. Given the type of work that occurs in oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, was not only used in factory buildings, but also in work surfaces, lab equipment and safety clothes. There is little question that asbestos was great at protecting against fire or excessive heat. This benefit, however, was accompanied by a terrible cost in terms of human health.
In general, amosite was the type of asbestos utilized. Frequently referred to as "brown asbestos", the amphibole form of asbestos known as amosite is especially resistant to acidic chemicals like those used in facilities like Clark Refining because of the iron molecules in its chemical makeup. Although it was outlawed for construction purposes in the 1970s, amosite, in the form of asbestos-containing transite, was utilized for decades in oil refineries and chemical plants throughout the US.
Similar to cement, asbestos transite could be sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and molded into working surfaces. For the most part, new items formed from transite were considered innocuous since the asbestos particles were trapped in the transite. As transite with asbestos containing material (ACM) ages and become prone to becoming powdery, however, lethal, microscopic fibers can flake off into the atmosphere. That is, such asbestos is friable, which means easily pulverized. Also, laboratory ovens frequently were fabricated with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?
Friable asbestos is a problem because in this form the particles are easily dispersed in the atmosphere. Breathing asbestos fibers can result in diseases such as cancer or asbestosis. Another uncommon, and often deadly, disease caused by asbestos is mesothelioma. The pleural variety of mesothelioma, one which attacks the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity, is the most prevalent. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are caused by ingesting asbestos fibers, which can occur when the microscopic particles become airborne and settle on food or in beverages.
Since medical research yielded a better awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure, workers today are protected by strict rules controlling how to use asbestos. However, when places like Clark Refining of Port Arthur were constructed, the use of asbestos was much more common. Before present-day rules were enacted, workers often toiled without respirators or other safety gear in spaces where asbestos particles filled the atmosphere.
The Lurking Hazard of Asbestos
Asbestos-related diseases, in contrast to typical work-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the incident, may take many, many years to manifest. It can also be hard to diagnose asbestos-related ailments because the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other, less serious disorders. Accordingly, it is vital for men and women that were employed by or spent much time near places like Clark Refining of Port Arthur, Texas, to ask their doctors for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Moreover, all those who shared homes with these people are also at risk, since unless strict safety measures, like the use of workplace-only clothing and on-site showers, were in place, it was common for employees to bring home asbestos particles on their skin, in their hair, or on their clothing. Although there is no readily available mesothelioma cure, the disease can sometimes be treated with various therapies.Sources
Business Wire - Clark USA Ratings Affirmed by S&P After Announcement
Center for Energy Economics, University of Texas-Austin - The Deer Park Refinery: Pemex-Shell Joint Venture
The Historical Marker Database - The Port Arthur Refinery
Kelly Holleran, SE Texas Record - Former Gulf employee exposed to asbestos, suit claims
Alan Kovski - Clark Refining finally closes purchase of Port Arthur facility from Chevron (The Oil Daily, February 28, 1995)
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Energy Information Administration - U.S. Refineries* Operable Capacity
US Securities and Exchange Commission - Clark Refining and Marketing, Inc. Form 10-K Annual Report for the fiscal year ended December 31, 1996