May 20, 2011
Statement by CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso Commending Connecticut House of Representatives for Passing Bill Prohibiting Natural Gas Blows at Power Plants
Today I wish to commend the Connecticut General Assembly’s House of Representatives for unanimously passing a bill to permanently ban the deadly practice of using flammable gases to blow out debris and clean gas piping. The CSB had found that a series of natural gas blows led to a February 7, 2010, explosion at Kleen Energy natural gas electric generation plant, which was under construction in Middletown, Connecticut, fatally injuring six workers and injuring at least 50 others.
This bill would set an example for the rest of the country. It was heartening to see that it passed unanimously and I look forward to final passage of the bill in the Senate and its signing by the Governor.
The tragedy at Kleen Energy was preventable, and that’s why the CSB earlier made a formal recommendation to Connecticut and others to ban the practice. The CSB concluded that using gas blows to clean piping is inherently unsafe, and should no longer be permitted in the construction of power plants.
I wish to reiterate my call for the banning of natural gas blows by other states, the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and organizations that set voluntary standards. It is important the practice be done away with in order to save lives.
During our investigation of Kleen Energy, the CSB found that 125 or more natural gas fueled power plants are anticipated to come online over the next five years. In many of these instances, new or refitted plants may opt to use gas blows despite the inherent dangers, simply because gas is conveniently available. Therefore, ending the practice of natural gas blows has the potential to prevent future tragedies such as that which occurred at Kleen Energy.
Pipes which supply flammable gas to gas-fired electrical turbine generators must be cleaned of construction and other debris prior to initial operation. The CSB’s investigation found that on the day of the accident at Kleen Energy, contract workers were cleaning fuel gas piping by forcing large amounts of flammable gas through the pipes. Natural gas was forced out of vents located near ground level, adjacent to the power generation building. Just before 11:30 am, the accumulated gas ignited, triggering a massive explosion.
As a result of the Kleen Energy accident and a deadly explosion at the ConAgra food plant in Raleigh, North Carolina, the CSB issued a total of 18 urgent safety recommendations at a public meeting in Middletown, Connecticut, on June 28, 2010. This included a recommendation that the governor and legislature of Connecticut enact a law prohibiting the use of flammable gas to clean fuel gas piping during power plant construction.
Recommendations were also made to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calling for federal regulations that would prohibit the release of flammable gas to the atmosphere for the purpose of cleaning fuel gas piping. The Board also issued similar recommendations to two major voluntary standards organizations - the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) - to amend their respective codes and standards to require the use of inherently safer methods during the cleaning of fuel gas piping.
Earlier this year, the CSB released a 15 minute safety video that includes a 3-D animation of the events leading up to the accident at Kleen Energy. Entitled “Deadly Practices,” the video shows the hazards of releasing gas into areas where it can accumulate, ignite, and kill or injure workers or members of the public. The video is available online at www.CSB.gov and on the CSB’s YouTube channel.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact CSB Communications Director Hillary Cohen (202-446-8094, or Sandy Gilmour, 202-261-7614 or cell 202-251-5496.