Monday, September 13, 2010

Fortune Magazine Kleen Energy Article: "There Are Signs The Commitment To Safety Has Not Improved"

Fortune Magazine has published a long article on the Kleen Energy power plant project by reporter Katie Benner. While the article focuses on project partners Phil Armetta, William Corvo, and lead contractor O&G, perhaps its most frightening revelation is a reported complacency towards safety at the site.

According to the article:

Allegations that O&G placed speed above all else are at the heart of the many lawsuits filed against Kleen, O&G, and its subcontractors. Kleen had a nearly flawless safety record before the blast, but workers say management never made safety a priority. Small violations, like not wearing protective gear, were ignored by O&G, whereas on other sites workers would be issued warnings or even escorted off the job. OSHA's report portrayed a site where safety was the last consideration. In a statement, O&G, which is contesting OSHA's findings, asserts that it "requires strict compliance with safety rules, regulations, and procedures from all those working on its sites. O&G routinely disciplines employees and censures contractors for noncompliance."

But eyebrow-raising choices were made at Kleen. Natural gas is so explosive that before a gas blow, contractors usually turn off electricity to avoid the chance of a spark, and clear a site of all but those involved in the blow. O&G left the electricity on. And the contractor not only told other workers to show up, but also directed them to perform tasks that produce open flames.

The companies that were in charge on the day of the blast are still in charge today. And there are signs the commitment to safety has not improved. According to multiple sources, O&G's safety director recently told workers that to avoid scrutiny, they should drive one another to the hospital rather than call 911 if they are injured. (O&G asserts that the director denies making the statement and adds that it is company policy and practice to call 911 when appropriate.)

The article also examines the process of issuing permits through city and state government, calling Armetta and Corvo "prominent figures in tight-knit Middletown," but also indicates that lenders were initially reluctant to fund the plant, "especially one proposed by a trio of neophytes." 

The story also examines a deal made with Kleen by former mayor Dominque Thornton that has not turned out so well for Middletown:

Then-mayor Domenique Thornton inked a generous tax deal with Kleen in 2003. The electric plant's tax bill was based on the facility's proposed $260 million cost in 2002. Over the decade, construction and land prices soared. The plant and property are now worth $760 million, but Kleen will pay taxes on the original assessment. "So much for that great source of tax revenue," says (Earle) Roberts.

The plant is currently awaiting word on an extension for construction from the Connecticut Siting Council.


Anonymous said...

This article may be new news to the world at large but it is old news to the followers of the Middletown Eye.
Were any new facts revealed?

Anonymous said...

What's interesting is that there have been several incidents of worker injuries on the site where OSHA had been called in to investigate. You'd think with $16 million worth of fines they would have found SOME violations at those investigations.