Chevron Refinery Fire

Accident Description:On August 6, 2012, the Chevron U.S.A. Inc. Refinery in Richmond, California, experienced a catastrophic pipe failure in the #4 Crude Unit. The incident occurred from the piping referred to as the “4-sidecut” stream, which was a carbon steel pipe with low silicon concentrations. The pipe ruptured, releasing flammable, hydrocarbon process fluid which partially vaporized into a large vapor cloud. Testing determined that the pipe failed due to thinning caused by sulfidation corrosion, a common damage mechanism in refineries.  Inspection of sufidation corrosion for carbon steel components containing low silicon concentrations is challenging. Rather than switching to an alloy with higher chromium content for high temperature areas susceptible to sulfidation corrosion, Chevron management denied recommendations to replace the 4-sidecut line as data gained primarily from high silicon pipe-fitting components, on which they relied, but did not reflect the corrosion rates of the lower-silicon components of the 4-sidecut piping.

Carbide Industries Fire and Explosion

Accident Description:Two workers were killed and two others injured as a result of a fire and explosion that occurred at the Carbide Industries facility located in Louisville, Kentucky, which produces calcium carbide products. Post-incident examination revealed recurring water leaks in multiple zones of the furnace cover. Rather than replacing the furnace cover, the company directed workers to attempt repairs. The investigation found that the company would inject a mixture of oats and commercially available “boiler solder” into the cooling water, in an effort to plug the leaks and keep the aging cover in operation. Water leaks into the furnace interfere with the steady introduction of lime and coke raw materials, through an effect known as “bridging” or “arching”. In a carbide-producing electric arc furnace, this can result in an undesirable and hazardous side reaction between calcium carbide and lime, which produces gas much more rapidly that the normal reaction to produce calcium carbide itself. Industry literature described the phenomenon as early as 1965, and an independent CSB analysis confirmed that operating conditions at Carbide on the day of the incident could have resulted in this effect, causing hot materials to be expelled from the furnace. The company continued operating the furnace despite the hazard from ongoing water leaks.  The accident was a case study into the tragic, predictable consequences of running equipment to failure when repeated safety incidents over many years warn of impending failure. When control room windows blew out during previous furnace incidents, the company reinforced them, rather than moving the control room farther from the furnace and investigating why the smaller furnace overpressure events were happening in the first place.

Motiva Enterprises Sulfuric Acid Tank Explosion

Accident Description:On July 17, 2001, an explosion occurred at the Motiva Enterprises refinery in Delaware City, Delaware. A work crew had been repairing a catwalk above a sulfuric acid storage tank farm when a spark from their hot work ignited flammable vapors in one of the tanks. This tank had holes in its roof and shell due to corrosion. The tank collapsed, and one of the contract workers was killed; eight others were injured. The refinery's sulfuric acid tanks had a history of leaks but Motiva took no effective action, even when its own tank inspectors recommended full internal inspections "as soon as possible" in three successive annual reports prior to the explosion. Three weeks before the explosion, an operator submitted a formal Unsafe Condition Report noting holes in two tanks and pointing out that the hose used to blanket the tank with nonflammable carbon dioxide was improperly installed. The CSB found Motiva investigated the Unsafe Condition Report but took no action to correct the deficiencies.

Marcus Oil and Chemical Tank Explosion

Accident Description:On the evening of December 3, a storage tank failed catastrophically at the Marcus Oil and Chemical polyethylene wax facility in Houston. CSB investigators determined that the failed vessel, known as Tank No. 7, had been modified by Marcus Oil to install internal heating coils, as were several other pressure vessels at the facility. Following installation of the coils, each vessel was resealed by welding a steel plate over the two-foot diameter temporary opening. The repair welds did not meet accepted industry quality standards for pressure vessels. Marcus Oil did not use a qualified welder or proper welding procedure to reseal the vessels and did not pressure-test the vessels after the welding was completed.

Hoeganaes Corporation Fatal Flash Fires

Accident Description: Three combustible dust incidents over a six month period occurred at the Hoeganaes facility in Gallatin, TN, resulting in fatal injuries to five workers. At the third incident on May 27, 2011, the trench involved contained many pipes including nitrogen and hydrogen supply and vent pipes for band furnaces. In addition to housing the pipes, the trench also acted as a drain for cooling water used in the band furnaces. At the time of the incident, this water came out of the furnaces how and drained directly onto the pipes and into the trench. Hoeganaes did not regularly inspect the pipes in the trench. The design and maintenance of this trench, should have addressed the issue of slow corrosion over time caused by the hot water runoff and solids accumulation.Hoeganaes did not have a procedure to inspect piping within the trench to ensure that corrosion had not compromised the piping systems which would allow an uncontrolled release of hydrogen.

DPC Enterprises Festus Chlorine Release

Accident Description:On August 14, 2002, a chlorine transfer hose ruptured during a rail car unloading operation at the DPC Enterprises chlorine repackaging facility near Festus, Missouri. The CSB found that DPC lacked an effective testing and inspection program for its chlorine emergency shutdown system. Emergency shutdown valves failed to close properly once the chlorine leak had begun, greatly extending the duration and severity of the release. Investigators concluded that the valves were inoperable due to internal system corrosion, in turn caused by inadvertent introduction of moisture into the chlorine system. DPC's testing and inspection program was inadequate to uncover the faulty condition of the valves before the accident occurred.

Allied Terminals Fertilizer Tank Collapse

Accident Description:On November 12, 2008 a two-million-gallon liquid fertilizer storage tank collapsed at the Allied Terminal distribution facility in Chesapeake, Virginia. The incident critically injured two contract workers, who were hospitalized. The CSB found that the collapse of Tank 201, which contained an aqueous solution of urea and ammonium nitrate fertilizer, likely resulted from defective welds on the tank wall. The welding was performed in 2006 as part of a project to strengthen four fertilizer tanks that were constructed around 1929 by replacing vertical riveted seams.

Silver Eagle

Accident Description:On the evening of January 12, 2009, two refinery operators and two contractors suffered serious burns resulting from a flash fire at the Silver Eagle Refinery in Woods Cross, Utah. The accident occurred when a large flammable vapor cloud was released from an atmospheric storage tank, known as tank 105, which contained an estimated 440,000 gallons of light naphtha. The vapor cloud found an ignition source and the ensuing flash fire spread up to 230 feet west of the tank farm. On November 4, 2009, a second accident occurred at the Silver Eagle Refinery in Woods Cross, Utah, when a powerful blast wave, caused by the failure of a 10 inch pipe, damaged nearby homes. The CSB investigation team found that the examination of the ruptured pipe segment and adjacent piping clearly indicated wall thinning had occurred in the piping component.  The elbow adjacent to the pipe segment that failed was noted to have an original thickness of 0.719-inch.  A 2007 thickness measurement of the elbow indicated a wall thickness of 0.483-inch, indicating years of thinning had taken place.  The adjacent straight-run segment that failed was found to have a wall thickness as low as 0.039-inch and there were no records of any previous inspection.  The CSB found that in this investigations, as with other refinery investigations, mechanical integrity programs at refineries repeatedly emphasize inspection strategies rather than the use of inherently safer design to control the damage mechanisms that ultimately cause major process safety incidents. 

BP Texas City

Accident Description:At approximately 1:20 p.m. on March 23, 2005, a series of explosions occurred at the BP Texas City refinery during the restarting of a hydrocarbon isomerization unit. Fifteen workers were killed and 180 others were injured. The explosions occurred when a distillation tower flooded with hydrocarbons and was overpressurized, causing a geyser-like release from the vent stack.  The investigative team found a number of problems with the facility's preventative maintenance program that were causally related to the March 23 accident. The CSB concluded that BP supervisory personnel were aware of the equipment problems with the level transmitter before the March 23 startup but still had signed off on equipment checks as if they had been done, which the report said reflected the prevalence of production pressures at the refinery.  The day of the incident, a blowdown drum vented highly flammable material directly to the atmosphere. The drum was never connected to a flare since its construction in the 1950s. The previous owner of the refinery, Amoco Corporation, replaced the ISOM unit blowdown drum in 1997 with identical equipment; Amoco refinery safety standards recommended connecting the drum to a flare when such major modifications were undertaken, but this was not done.