Washington, DC, November 23, 2010 - Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso, Chairperson of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) today applauded the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for its recent decision to establish a new technical committee to develop a comprehensive standard for gas processing safety, including the cleaning of fuel gas piping systems. The NFPA acted in response to an urgent recommendation issued by the CSB following a catastrophic natural gas explosion at Kleen Energy, a power plant under construction in Middletown, Connecticut on February 7, 2010. In that incident, workers were conducting a "gas blow," a procedure that forced natural gas at high volume and pressure through newly-installed piping to remove debris. The gas was vented to the atmosphere, where it accumulated and exploded, killing six contract workers and injuring many others.
Dr. Moure-Eraso said, “On October 29, the NFPA Standards Council announced it would establish a new technical committee to develop a gas processing safety standard. This goes beyond the CSB’s original recommendation, which urged an amendment to NFPA’s National Fuel Gas Code. Creating a new technical committee is a broader approach which opens the possibility of improving safety during a variety of fuel gas processes, including cleaning of gas piping and discharging of gas already in the system during gas purging or maintenance.”
The CSB had found that the hazards of fire and explosion during natural gas blows made the practice inherently unsafe. Efforts to manage these risks are dauntingly complex and fraught with uncertainty, and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate or control ignition sources, especially since the gas itself may self-ignite. Most importantly, Dr. Moure-Eraso emphasized that “inherently safer cleaning methods should be adopted in all cases, because they are readily available and already widely used by many safety-conscious companies.” He added that the he “was confident that upon review of the evidence, the newly-established NFPA 56 committee will agree that cleaning fuel gas piping with natural gas is inherently unsafe and should be prohibited.”
Dr. Moure-Eraso also welcomed the NFPA’s announcement that they would develop the new standard via an expedited process. “Some 125 natural gas-fired power plants are planned for construction across the United States over the next five years. So by helping to prohibit this inherently unsafe practice as soon as possible, the NFPA would be instrumental in preventing further loss of life and property damage.”
Dr. Moure-Eraso added that he is hopeful the committee will be able to attract and incorporate the views of other organizations with expertise in gas processing activities. “It would be ideal if the new standard can incorporate and reflect a wide consensus of experts within industry and organized labor.”
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents and hazards. 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 absence or inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board makes safety recommendations to regulatory agencies, including OSHA and EPA, as well as to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and other institutions and organizations, but it does not issue citations or fines. Visit our website, www.csb.gov
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Note to reporters and editors: on June 28, 2010, the CSB also made a number of recommendations to multiple parties arising from the investigation of a natural gas explosion during purging of a gas line to an industrial heater at a food manufacturing facility in North Carolina. The two incidents are related because both involved the intentional release of flammable natural gas into working areas, potentially putting workers and nearby communities at risk of fires and explosions. The NFPA acted favorably on the CSB recommendations on this matter earlier, and the CSB also praised that action. It is also likely that the new NFPA committee will integrate the hazards of purging of natural gas into its comprehensive approach. The two investigations can be found in one report on the CSB web page.