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CAPECO disaster, Puerto Rico


The petroleum refinery started in Puerto Rico in 1995, settled in Bayamon as CAPECO. Through time, ownership has changed following the purchase by Gulf Oil Corporation (1962), Chevron Corporation (1984), First Oil Corporation (1987) and last, Puma Energy Caribe (2011). It was used as a petroleum storage terminal and distribution facility for gasoline, fuel oil, jet and diesel fuel with an open space of 179 acres and 48 storage tanks. On the night of October 23, 2009 a large explosion occurred at the refinery which burned a total of 17 petroleum storage tanks.

It was a night shift when the employees were receiving the offloading of gasoline to store at the tanks. The received merchandise has to be distributed into 4 storage tanks that takes more than 24hours to fully complete. On October 22 approximately at 10pm, the operators were on the process to fully load the last tank and estimate to be done at 1am, but around 12 the gasoline of the tank was already overflowed and it was spilling out. Each tank has a tank operator that records the level every hour by observing the level gauge on the side of the tank. It seems that the tank operators weren’t following the procedures and the employees were filling the tanks manually and by eye. The explosion caused a massive fire that extended to other tanks that exploded too and made the situation worst. Three people were left injured. The blast and fire from multiple secondary explosions resulted in significant damage to the petroleum storage tanks and in neighborhoods and businesses offsite. The fires burned for almost 66 hours while emergency responders fought to control de fire.

CAPECO and the EPA collected and shipped offsite an estimated 171,000 gallons of oil and 22 million gallons of contact water. Overall, approximately 30 million gallons of petroleum were released via storm water channels, on-site and off-site surface water bodies, and neighboring wetlands to San Juan Bay. It was also found dead wildlife and both aquatic and avian species, including protected species covered in oil. In May 2010, CAPECO was required to pay more than $8.2 million for environmental liabilities.  The day after the explosion, a lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court of San Juan against Caribbean Petroleum Corporation and MAPFRE Insurance Company. MAPFRE was later removed from the lawsuit. On December 11, 2009, a third joint lawsuit was presented against Caribbean Petroleum Corp. by 1,000 defendants seeking $500 million in damages.

On August 2010, Caribbean Petroleum Corporation filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. The company cited debts of $500 million to $1 billion, against assets of $100 million to $500 million, according to the filing. The filing came after the company failed to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency orders to clean the site of the explosion. Caribbean Petroleum claimed their financial situation prevented them from doing the work, and EPA took over the cleaning process.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:CAPECO disaster, Puerto Rico
Country:Puerto Rico
State or province:Puerto Rico
Location of conflict:Bayamón
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Chemical products

Project Details and Actors

Project details

There were 11 tanks that exploded and then it rapidly spreads to nearby tanks. A total of 17 out of 48 tanks were burned. The explosion was measured to a 2.8 magnitude earthquake Ritcher scale. Flames reached a height of 30m above the refinery. CSB estimated nearly 200,000 gallons of gasoline were escaped, equivalent to 107 acres.

Project area:72.44 hectares
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:2009
End of the conflict:01/05/2010
Company names or state enterprises:Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO) from Puerto Rico
Relevant government actors:Fire Department Station.
Police Department
International and Finance InstitutionsGulf Oil Corporation from United States of America - Owners of the refinary
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Act)
CSB(Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board)
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
Emergency Management State Agency

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
International ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Fires, Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Soil erosion, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of alternatives:Implement a prevention program that includes process safety information, process hazard analysis, standard operating procedures, training, mechanical integrity, compliance audits, incident investigations, management of change (MOC), pre-startup reviews, employee participation, and hot work permits.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:COPECO declared bankruptcy and left the area without repairing the damages. EPA took over the cleaning process.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Clean Water Act

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

Clean Air ACt

Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure

Oil Protection Act

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites




CASO CAPECO - Revelan lo que pasó en caso CAPECO, seis años después

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network





Meta information

Contributor:Verónica Fontanals Cuebas/ UPRM/ [email protected]
Last update10/07/2017










Tanks burning down