Washington, DC, July 30, 2005 - Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board today continued a preliminary investigation into the explosion and fire which occurred at the BP Texas City refinery on Thursday, July 28, 2005.
CSB Investigators Giby Joseph and Francisco Altamirano visited the site where the accident occurred for a second time. They continued interviewing plant operators, and requested additional documentation and other information from the company regarding the chemical process underway at the time of the accident. They arranged for eyewitnesses to be interviewed early in the week, and announced their intention to arrange testing protocols -- to examine a pipe that separated from a flange -- to determine what caused it to fail. Mr. Joseph said the explosion occurred during what appeared to be a normal operation in the reactor section of the plant's Resid Hydrotreater Unit # 1, or RHU, when an eight-inch pipe connected to a heat exchanger failed at the flange. (Flanges are pipe fittings which are used to connect equipment such as pipes and valves.)
"Recycled gas, primarily hydrogen, was suddenly released when the pipe broke away. The hydrogen, under high pressure and temperature, was ignited, sending a large jet fire shooting an estimated 75 feet westward from the flange. Damage was localized along that fire path," Mr. Joseph said, adding that initial information indicates the hydrogen was pressurized at approximately 3,000 pounds per square inch at a temperature of over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat from the fire deformed piping and bent structural beams, he said.
Investigators said the reactor combines heavy crude oil with hydrogen as part of the conversion to lighter products. There were no injuries from the incident. Investigators were told that 13 workers were in the area, including several contractors. BP has provided CSB investigators with handwritten eyewitness statements from employees, who will be interviewed this coming week by the CSB.
The incident occurred during routine operations, and not during maintenance or a startup. CSB investigators say that witnesses report having received no warning indications before the pipe failure and explosion.
Investigators Joseph and Altamirano are part of the CSB team currently investigating the explosion and fire which occurred at the BP Texas City refinery on March 23, 2005, killing 15 workers and injuring more than 170 others. After an initial assessment is made of the July 28 accident, the Board will determine the extent to which the latest accident will be further investigated, and whether it would form part of the ongoing investigation.
CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said, "Although this latest explosion and fire fortunately caused no injuries, such accidents are not an acceptable part of normal operations. The accident occurred at an entirely different part of the Texas City facility, but we are interested in knowing whether the two accidents share any common root causes such as lack of an effective mechanical integrity program. Such a program would make sure the equipment is safe and serviceable."
Lead investigator Donald Holmstrom, in charge of the March 23 explosion investigation, will arrive on site Monday evening.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial 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 safety management systems. Typically, the investigations involve extensive witness interviews, examination of physical evidence, and chemical and forensic testing.
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. The Board designates formal responses to its recommendations as acceptable or unacceptable, open or closed. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov.
For further information, contact Sandy Gilmour, cell 202.251.5496.
ATTN NEWS MEDIA: We do not expect to issue further information Sunday July 31, 2005.