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Scenarios Posed For Fatal BP Explosion

February 11, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 6

Several accident scenarios are being investigated by the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) in its search for a root cause of a Jan. 14 chemical plant accident that killed one worker at the BP Texas City, Texas, refinery. Late last week, CSB announced it will begin a complete investigation of the accident, noting the refinery's history of fatalities—some 41 workers have been killed in the past 32 years. The most recent accident was due to overpressurization and a possible explosion within the ultracracker unit, CSB says. The investigation will focus on the cause of the excessive pressure, which occurred during start-up after a prolonged shutdown, similar to many chemical plant accidents. The ultracracker uses high-pressure hydrogen gas to break apart or "crack" petroleum molecules. The hydrogen gas is a refinery by-product but is not pure and must be cleaned to remove impurities such as hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulfide, and chlorides. The incident occurred within the filtration system, CSB notes, which normally operates under moderate pressure. However, the overpressurization sheared or stripped 24 large bolts and sent a heavy metal lid through the air, killing the process supervisor.


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