Prepa Hearing Witness: Lab Doctored Fuel Compliance
SAN JUAN – Former Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) chemist Abraham Ortiz Charriez charged Tuesday that the utility altered the results of 500 to 600 documents on oil purchases using Liquid Paper correction fluid because the fuel did not meet the standards for sulfur content.
“The certificates showed that the shipments complied with standards but they were falsified and the shipments were accepted,” he said.
Ortiz Charriez, who audited the fuel purchases several years ago, made his remarks during a hearing held by a congressional committee that is investigating the so-called oil cartel.
Ortiz Charriez said he found similar irregularities in other power plants, such as Costa Sur and San Juan. “The audit committee had 14 boxes that proved other irregularities in other power plants,” he said. The information could not be put in the final audit because the report was altered by the utility.
Prepa was not supposed to accept sulfur with a content higher than 0.5% because of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations but the laboratories hired by Prepa allegedly altered the results.
From 2002 to the present, Prepa receives around 15 to 30 fuel cargoes a month. A laboratory identified as Alchem tested the fuel for sulfur compliance. It would conduct a second test if the fuel failed to meet sulfur content standards. If the cargo fails the second test, another lab, Saybolt would test it again. If the sample passed that test, which it allegedly did every time, the shipment was accepted.
The audit was ordered by Prepa’s board after an employee found a laboratory result of a fuel shipment that did not meet sulfur contents but was allowed.
The auditing committee was comprised by Ortiz, Carmen R. Alicea and José Gandia.
The auditors interviewed officials in the laboratories who complained that the Office of Fuel Purchases, headed by William Clark, was pressuring technicians into falsifying lab results to make it appear that oil shipments were in compliance. Alchem complained that it found high levels of sulfur in the shipments but instead of rejecting the fuel, Prepa would ask Saybolt to run the tests and accepted its results to use the fuel.
In May 2010, a barge identified as the Tennessee brought in a shipment of fuel that Alchem found had a high level of sulfur. The laboratory was told it was not going to be accepted.
However, Saybolt ran a test and said the fuel had a low level of sulfur and the shipment was in compliance.
The only problem was that Saybort authorized the release of the cargo at 8:15 p.m. via an email sent to a PREPA official identified as Elvin Morales. However, a printout of the machine used to do the sulfur test showed that the test was done at 8:49 p.m. In other words, the laboratory authorized the release of the shipment before conducting the tests.
Ortiz said auditors confronted Saybolt with the discrepancy but the laboratory said that the machine reflected Texas time. The auditors, however, checked the machine and the computer from which the email was sent and both were using the same time zone.
The auditors said they presented the audit to Prepa but, that its contents were altered by the utility.