Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Man-Made Catastrophe: No One Responsible Can Escape Blame

A Man-Made Catastrophe: No One Responsible Can Escape Blame
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 4, 2014

Summary: The Kaohsiung City gas pipeline explosion was a major disaster. Many people bear heavy responsibility. That is inescapable. A tiny hole in the pipeline could have been the result of neglect by a handful of workers, or a gaggle of bureaucrats. It led to an unqualified disaster. The question one must ask now, is after this unforgettable pain, what have we learned?

Full Text Below:

According to the available evidence, the cause of the Kaohsiung City gas explosion was a propene leak by LCY Chemical Corp. One. The propene delivery time is consistent with public reports of the incident. Two. Communication records show that China General Terminal & Distribution Corporation (CGTD) which sent the shipment, and LCY Chemical Corp., which received the shipment, did indeed encounter problems with propene shipment. Three. Prosecutors have learned that people smelled strange odors emerging from locations where underground LCY Chemical pipelines were located. So far, LCY Chemical has denied responsibility.

The next point of contention that must be addressed is, why was the pipeline leaking? Was LCY Chemical responsible? Over the last few days, LCY Chemical has offered two responses. First it said it may have been the result of improper construction near the pipeline rupture, for example, the nearby municipal light rail project. Next it said maintenance of the pipeline was the responsibility of the CPC Corp., not LCY Chemical.

But prosecutors discovered a hole in the pipeline where a "square metal patch" had fallen off. It did not appear to be the result of nearby construction projects. It looked more like the result of age and disrepair. Repair records should have been kept. Maintenance and repair should have been more diligent. LCY Chemical apparently failed to meet its responsibilities. CPC Corp. said that 30 years ago the ownership of the pipeline was transferred to LCY Chemical. It said every company should be responsible for the maintenance of its own property. It said CPC Corp. and LCY Chemical never signed a maintenance contract. If true, the damaged propene pipeline that resulted in a leak is the inescapable responsibility of LCY Chemical.

This major disaster was entirely man-made. LCY Chemical is a listed company with annual output of $50 billion NT. But it has repeatedly disowned all responsiblity. It has demonstrated no sense of social responsibility. The night before the gas explosion, personnel in charge of receiving the propene shipment may not have been aware of the gas leaks. They noticed the pressure loss, contacted CGTD, then continued shipping the propene. One cannot say that the company knowingly caused the disaster. but the CGTD foreman revealed that there was a gas leak on Ersheng Road. Both sides closed their delivery valves. Shortly afterwards a string of explosions occurred. The company must now be fully aware of its propene problems. Yet its conduct in recent days has been farcical.

LCY Chemical cannot escape responsibility. But Kaohsiung City Government disaster prevention and relief also failed. First of all, the city's underground pipeline map contains no record of this LCY Chemical pipeline. Clearly the city's fire and public works management is incomplete and includes basic information gaps. Secondly, the city government misjudged the situation during the first three hours of the crisis. City officials thought it was a natural gas explosion. Finally, the EPA Southern District contingency team, which has the ability to deal with toxic gases, waited too long. Third, One hour before the explosion, the Kaohsiung City Fire Department asked Sinochem and Sinopec to cut pipeline transmission. But it failed to notify LCY Chemical. This was a blunder. Fourth, people repeatedly reported the disaster. Yet the municipal government "public service center" repeatedly responded in a perfunctory manner. City officials lied, saying "We have the situation under control." This demonstrated a stupefying disregard for human life.

Nor was that all. The gas explosion led to heavy casualties and losses. This reflects on Kaohsiung's lack of emergency rescue systems. It had virtually no control of the situation. Many firefighters on the scene busied themselves with traditional water sprays. This may be effective against natural gas leaks. But using it with propene leaks merely adds fuel to the fire. Propene is heavier than natural gas. Propene is unlike natural gas, which dissipates into the air. Continuous spraying merely causes propene to flow into the sewers, increasing the area of damage. We have to wonder. When firefighters were busy on the front lines, did their superiors in command and control consider their safety? Did they consider the risk to local residents? If they did, why did they not cordon off the site and evacuate passing pedestrians and vehicles? City officials have been blaming LCY Chemical for failing to inform them when they were transporting propene. In fact, the laws and regulations do not require notification.

The number of deaths from the gas explosion continues to mount. Two missing firefighters have yet to be found. An underground section still contains 260 tons of propene that must be dealt with. Road reconstruction is still a long way off. As evidence continues to emerge, those guilty of administrative negligence cannot be allowed to escape responsibility. LCY Chemical and the Kaohsiung City government must tell the truth about what happened, and shoulder responsibility. Central and local government division of labor for pipeline management must be clarified. There cannot be any "no man's land." They must not resort to mud-slinging or shameless evasion, in order to shift the focus of attention.

This was a major disaster. Many people bear heavy responsibility. That is inescapable. A tiny hole in the pipeline could have been the result of neglect by a handful of workers, or a gaggle of bureaucrats. It led to an unqualified disaster. The question one must ask now, is after this unforgettable pain, what have we learned?

2014.08.04 03:01 am









No comments: