Government inspectors began reviewing Costa Rica’s 346 gas stations this week. This is the first time, as far as the officials could remember, that the government has done such a sweeping investigation.
Officials with the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE), Public Health Ministry and National Oil Refinery (RECOPE) began their inspections with the Gasolinera Servicentro Tournon gas station, in northern San José, following a press conference Monday. The inspections will focus on the stations’ safety, infrastructure, mechanical operations, spill control and employee training, said Oscar Porras, head of MINAE’s General Administration of Hydrocarbons. For example, gas stations must have drain and channel systems that keep oil, gasoline and other chemicals from leaking into city drains or local aquifers.
Businesses that have small errors or faults will be allowed to remain open for one month while they correct them, Porras said. Those with serious problems, which Porras defined as “something that puts people’s or the environment’s health at risk,” such as a lack of a drainage system or emergency shutoff switch, will be ordered to close.
Thirty officials are involved in the operation; they will travel five routes throughout the country, and stop to inspect every gas station in Costa Rica. A final analysis of the national inspection is expected after Feb. 28, Porras said.
“We foresee that in the future, security norms are going to be much stricter,” Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles said at the press conference. Porras said he is hoping he will be given more human resources, as he continues to work with what he describes as an understaffed department. Apart from secretaries, messengers and file clerks, the administration has one engineer and one lawyer. Porras said that his request for more staff has been authorized by his higher-ups, but is still in the process of being made official so the positions can be filled.
The national inspection launch came exactly three months after two children were burned to death inside their mother’s car when the gas pump they were parked next to exploded (TT, Nov. 3, 2006).
Investigations into the Oct. 29, 2006, accident revealed the fire was likely caused because an employee was changing a filter in the same pump from which a vehicle was being fueled. The station was not equipped with an emergency shutoff switch (TT, Nov. 10, 2006).
Dobles announced that the Shell gas station where the children were killed, located in Escazú, southwest of San José, will not be allowed to renew its concession to sell gas, following a report on the station from General Hydrocarbon Administration, the daily Al Día reported.