US safety board urges Citgo to improve water system after fire

09 December 2009 17:33  [Source: ICIS news]

Citgo fire lasted due to water system failureHOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) on Wednesday called on Citgo to immediately improve its emergency water system at its Corpus Christi refinery in Texas, where a fire in the hydrogen flouride alkylation unit led to the hospitalisation of a worker.

The CSB also called on Citgo to perform third-party audits to ensure the safety of its hydrogen fluoride units at the company’s Corpus Christi and Lemont, Illinois, refineries.

According to CSB investigators, Citgo has never conducted such an audit of the units, despite an industry recommendation for audits every three years.

In the 19 July incident, investigators said a blockage of liquid caused by a control valve failure led to shaking within refinery piping, which broke threaded pipe connections and resulted in the release of hydrocarbons. The cloud of hydrocarbons then reached and adjacent unit and ignited, leading to a fire and the release of 42,000 lbs (19 tonnes) of hydrogen fluoride.

From there, the refinery used a water spray system to absorb the released hydrogen fluoride, but in the first day of response efforts, Citgo nearly exhausted its entire stored water supply, investigators said.

Citgo then began pumping salt water from the ship channel into the refinery fire water supply, but multiple failures occurred during the salt water transfer, including ruptures of the barge-to-shore transfer hoses and water pump engine failures, the CSB said.

“Investigators found that the Citgo water mitigation system serves as the last line of defense to protect the community from an HF release,” CSB investigations supervisor Robert Hall said.

The CSB asked Citgo to develop and initiate plans within 30 days to ensure an adequate water supply to the system at the 163,000 bbl/day refinery.

The CSB was still investigating the incident, with a final report expected in August 2010, CSB chairman John Bresland said.'

In October, the United Steelworkers (USW) union asked the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to review Citgo's start-up plan for the refinery, citing safety concerns amid a maintenance turnaround that was delayed until 2011.

The safety board also released a video of the initial pipe failure, release, ignition and fire as captured by two refinery surveillance cameras. But as with a recent CSB case involving Bayer CropScience, the board said Citgo objected to the video’s release, claiming that it would “raise substantial issues of national security”.

However, the CSB said it received affirmation from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that the video did not fall under classifications requiring protection from disclosure.

We found this claim disturbing and believe that it is contrary to the intent of a recent law passed by Congress, following similar secrecy claims by Bayer CropScience in Institute, West Virginia,” Bresland said.

“This law states that national security classifications may not be used to conceal corporate errors, prevent embarrassment, or improperly delay the release of information to the public,” he added. “I would hope the industry would learn from these two examples.”

The CSB labelled Citgo's cooperation with investigators as "somewhat marginal".

Citgo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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By: Ben DuBose
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