Fire and explosion at an oil refinery leads to £1.65 Million fine

The oil and gas industry around the world has been responsible for many serious incidents of fire and explosion, some of which have claimed lives and some of which has resulted only in property damage. Start up is a notoriously dangerous time in the process safety of the plant. In this case, Liverpool Crown Court was told that during the start-up of the main distillation unit, highly flammable hydrocarbons entered an unused furnace. Heat from another furnace triggered the blast, which started several fires that the fire service had to bring under control. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident, which happened in November 2013. The incident caused more than £20m worth of damage, including collapsed internal structures.

The explosion was reported to the EU as a major accident under schedule 7 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) investigation found that Essar had incorrectly installed a safety critical valve and had failed to properly validate its operation. The installation of a new safety-critical trip was also inadequately assessed by Essar as it did not note the system had a bypass line which defeated the trip’s operation. Though the company’s policy was to isolate main fuel lines to the furnace, a secondary fuel line had not been isolated during the shutdown. This allowed the hydrocarbons to enter the furnace, the HSE said.

Essar Oil UK pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Hazards Regulations 1999 for failing to prevent a major accident. The Company was fined £1,650,000 and ordered to pay costs of £57,645.

HSE principal inspector Joanne Eccles said:

The industry should take notice of this case; there were no injuries but mistakes were made and could have been prevented.

An Essar spokesman said it accepted responsibility from the outset for the incident and that “measures were put in place to ensure it could not happen again”.

Fire and explosion at an oil refinery leads to £1.65 Million fine

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