Commentary: Safety must come with US chemical expansions

21 June 2013 09:55  [Source: ICB]

The tragic fire and explosion at US-based Williams Companies' olefins plant in Geismar, Louisiana, US on 13 June that killed two people and injured over 70, is a reminder that safety must be the priority.

This should especially be kept in mind as the US undertakes one of the greatest petrochemical expansions in its history - one underpinned by shale gas.

These fatal incidents are rare, and the chemical industry has improved its safety record over the past decades. But a string of deadly events - including in the fertilizer sector - could make the public and policy makers think twice about the safety of these plants.

The Williams incident came a day before a rupture from a nitrogen vessel at CF Industries' fertilizer facility in Donaldsonville, Lousiana, killed one person and injured several. On 17 April, a huge explosion at the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killed 14 and injured around 200. The US shale gas phenomenon is already spurring a huge investment spree in petrochemicals and fertilizers. There are plans to build seven new crackers in the US, along with expansions of existing ethylene capacity at nine facilities. One of those expansions was being undertaken at the Williams plant in Geismar.

Along with this industrial renaissance, a focus on safety cannot be compromised.

By: Joseph Chang
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