Refineries across the country are breaking down with unusual frequency this year, boosting prices at the pump and endangering workers and communities.
The rash of oil plant problems may not be a coincidence. The breakdowns stem from the hard use of aging equipment, a shortage of trained workers, corporate cost-cutting and ownership changes, refinery experts say.
In the first six weeks of 2007, there were 43 incidents involving pipeline leaks, chemical releases, plant breakdowns and fires, more than has been typical, Kim Nibarger, a safety expert for the United Steelworkers Union, told Congress during a hearing last week on refinery safety.
If it continues, this will only add upward pressures on gas prices.