Hardly Reported: Venezuelan Refinery Disaster Has Chavez on Defensive, May Be Deadliest in World History

The Associated Press, in a Sunday evening dispatch, reported that the refinery explosion in Venezuela, which has thus far killed "at least 39 people" and injured "more than 80" (as of 10 a.m.; now it's at 41)  is "Venezuela's deadliest refinery blast ever." I'm sure that I join all readers here in expressing deep condolences and prayers for the victims and all who have been affected.

Obviously reporting the details as they emerge will for a time be more important, but it appears that the Amuay refinery explosion is the deadliest such refinery incident in world history, and by a wide margin. If so, the press, after determining that this is indeed the case it, should get around to reporting it as such.


Wikipedia's list of energy-related industrial disasters has several refinery catastrophes on its list. The highest refinery-related death toll I saw is 19 (at Romeoville, Illinois in 1984).

There may be a worse previous refinery disaster which occurred sometime somewhere in the world, but despite a great deal of searching, I wasn't able to find any evidence of one.

The disaster has put Venezuela's Hugo Chavez on the defensive weeks before a general election, according to the UK Guardian, which has an updated and slightly larger death toll (bolds are mine):

Venezuela oil refinery explosion: Chávez denies warnings were ignored Residents say strong smell of gas and fog-like haze hung in air for days before blast killed dozens at Amuay plant

Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, has angrily denied claims that early warning systems at the country's main Amuay oil refinery failed as residents reported there had been a strong smell of gas before Saturday's deadly explosion but no action was taken.

Three refining tanks exploded at Venezuela's biggest refinery complex, killing 41 people and injuring more than 80 people in the Opec nation's worst ever oil accident.

Officials at the 645,000 barrel-per-day Amuay refinery were on Sunday trying to stop the fire still raging at two storage tanks from spreading to other nearby fuel storage facilities. That would delay Amuay's restart beyond the current estimate of two days.

More than 200 homes were reported damaged by the shockwave. Some were across the street from the refinery, which is on a peninsula in the Caribbean Sea in western Venezuela.

... "What you say you heard suggests something that is practically impossible in an installation of this kind, the largest refinery in the world. It is completely automatised and it has thousands of responsible workers here day and night, civilians and military," Chávez said. "There is no way that there could have been a gas leak during three or four days and that no one did anything."

... The cause of the blast has yet to be determined but with presidential elections only six weeks away political accusations are flying. Chávez has said that a gas leak that concentrated into a cloud led to the explosion, while the general manager of the Paraguana refining integrated complex comprised of the Amuay and Cardon plants, Jesus Luongo, denied any negligence of maintenance practices.

This accident and a large oil spill in the eastern state of Monagas have revived allegations from industry professionals that safety protocols and standard maintenance practices were neglected after a general strike by the company's employees in 2002 led to the firing of more than 20,000 people.

If this is indeed the worst refinery disaster in world history (or even the second- or third-worst), when will the Associated Press and others establishment press outlets report it as such? And when will the press notice of the apparently growing "blame Hugo" outcry?

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.