April 6, 2006 — An oil cloud spurted from the Hovensa oil refinery Thursday morning, blackening cars and machinery, officials said.
A pressure relief valve at the vacuum distillation unit on the refinery's east side opened at 7:30 a.m., launching an unknown amount of oil into the atmosphere and spraying the compound, said Alex Moorhead, executive vice president of Hovensa.
Moorhead said no one was injured in the incident and that an air quality survey found the area in compliance with federal standards.
The valve is meant to open and release excess pressure that could damage the refinery's machinery, he said.
He said officials were investigating to find out why it opened Thursday.
None of the oil contaminated the Caribbean sea adjacent the refinery on the south coast of the island of St. Croix, he added.
Preliminary results confirm the oil spray was limited to land inside the Hovensa complex, said Aaron Hutchins, a spokesman for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
"They have a big cleanup job. It was kind of a mess," he said.
DPNR crews were checking for possible contamination in neighborhoods around the refinery and said air quality monitoring would continue throughout the evening.
Hovensa, a joint venture of New York-based Amerada Hess Corp. and Venezuela's state oil company, processes about half a million barrels of crude oil per day.
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