An investigation into the gas explosion that occurred at the Broadrock Renewables LLC energy plant early Tuesday morning is currently under way. Following warnings and concerns voiced by Mayor Joseph Polisena and Fire Chief Timothy McLaughlin just a week before, the threat of a possible gas explosion came to fruition at approximately 4 a.m. Tuesday.
“I was advised of the situation just before 6 a.m. by Chief McLaughlin,” said Mayor Polisena on Wednesday. “The first thing I asked: Was anyone hurt?”
The mayor ordered the main plant at Broadrock closed last week after Building Official Ben Nascenzi reported that the company had not complied with prior requests to remedy safety and building code violations at the site.
“This place looks like Beirut, it looks like a bomb went off,” he said upon touring the site.
“We were working with the company,” said Polisena. “We informed them that they would be allowed to open the older facility, called the Caterpillar or CAT plant, if they complied with regulations. They were supposed to ready the facility and then request an inspection from our building official and fire marshal before opening.”
According to Polisena, the company did not make arrangements for that inspection, nor did they receive clearance from the town to go forward with what was supposed to be a temporary plan at the secondary location.
“They didn’t contact us. They didn’t contact anyone. They opened the facility and now we have this. This is gas we are dealing with. I said there was going to be an explosion and there was,” said Polisena.
The mayor and Governor Lincoln Chafee toured the damage at the facility on Tuesday afternoon.
“If Broadrock’s not going to be a good partner in collecting the gases and turning it into energy, we have to make a change,” said Governor Chafee.
Chafee spoke of the continuing problems in dealing with the company and its management of gas collection and resultant odors from the landfill dating back to 2011.
“A private company, Broadrock has been part of the problem getting this moving forward and resolving some of these issues,” said the governor while touring the facility on Tuesday.
Mayor Polisena expressed his frustration with the level of destruction at the facility.
Nascenzi brought the shoddy repairs at the secondary facility to light.
“It’s a makeshift operation to try to recapture the gases from the landfill and feed it into the generator system so they can produce electricity,” he said. “Valves that control the gases being piped in from the landfill were in the open position after the explosion. Steel couplings blew off the pipes and the pipes blew apart, sending flames and gases into the facility.”
At approximately 6 a.m. Tuesday, Polisena received a telephone call from Johnston Fire Chief Tim McLaughlin that there was an explosion at the Broadrock facility.
Polisena and Gov. Chafee held an onsite press conference that included members of the Rhode Island State Police, EPA, PUC officials, and the town and State Fire Marshall’s office.
“I have full support of those agencies in shutting this place down,” Polisena said.
The mayor, who has now closed two plants inside the Johnston-based Central Landfill, added, “The damage could have been much worse. Someone could have actually been killed. This is shoddy construction.”
On Wednesday, the mayor expressed his ongoing concern with the company.
“The pipes were split and there was twisted metal everywhere,” he said. “I toured the facility with Janet Coit [director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management] and two DEM representatives. We showed her what we found and explained our concerns. Now we have to worry about the gases.”
Nascenzi scheduled a meeting with members of the town and state fire marshal’s offices regarding the investigation.
“The facility has not been released by me or anyone else for investigation at this time,” said Nascenzi on Wednesday afternoon. “I am meeting with the fire marshals tomorrow and may be able to put the issue to rest.”
The building official expressed the town’s wishes to get the facility back into production, with the possibility of opening the secondary plant on a temporary basis until issues at the main plant are remedied.
“They will have to comply with all recommendations before opening either plant,” said Nascenzi. “They are burning off the flares now in order to alleviate odors from the landfill. A flare at the main plant will be allowed as a backup. We spoke with DEM and they have agreed to allow the flare at the main plant as backup.”
On Wednesday, Polisena was still not confident in the company’s ability to maintain their facilities and carry out the contracted functions.
“It’s obvious that Broadrock is having some difficulty. It is there job to operate in a safe and efficient manner,” he said. “It’s our job to ensure that the town, the residents and the people of Rhode Island are safe. Thank God that no one was there when it happened. The only consolation here is that no one was injured.”
Broadrock Renewables issues statement
On Tuesday, Bill Fischer, president of True North Communications, released the following statement on behalf of Broadrock Renewables, LLC.
“At approximately 4 a.m. on the morning of July 16, a Broadrock power plant employee who was conducting routine rounds of the facility identified a small brush fire at the fence line, which was affecting pipe work serving Broadrock’s engine generation facility. The employee immediately alerted the local fire authorities, who extinguished the fire.
“The plant’s safety systems promptly shut down the electricity generation and gas extraction equipment outside of the affected area as an additional safety precaution to help prevent the incident from spreading. The fire’s cause is currently under investigation, and Broadrock is cooperating fully with the Johnston Fire Department and other Rhode Island authorities. Broadrock also intends to conduct its own review of the incident. Meanwhile, landfill gas is being collected and destroyed through alternate equipment.
“It is important to note that the incident did not occur at Broadrock’s new state of the art power plant. Broadrock has a strong track record of safety and have a number of systems and protocols in place to prevent and respond to situations of this nature. The facilities undergo regular safety inspections and Broadrock employees routinely conduct safety reviews of the equipment,” said Bill Fischer, Broadrock’s spokesperson.