BASF to restart Germany crackers in coming days

19 October 2016 20:17 Source:ICIS News

BASF Ludwigshafen cracker II
The two crackers, with a combined capacity of 620,000 tonnes/year of ethylene, were shut down after the accident on 17 October as raw material supplies were disrupted. Shown above is BASF's No 2 cracker at Ludwigshafen, Germany. (Source: BASF)

LONDON (ICIS)--BASF said on Wednesday evening that within days it will begin restarting its steam crackers at the Ludwigshafen petrochemicals hub on the Rhine river in Germany following Monday’s fatal explosion and fire.

The two crackers, with a combined capacity of 620,000 tonnes/year of ethylene, were shut down after the accident on 17 October as raw material supplies were disrupted.

As of Wednesday, three people were confirmed to have died in the accident, eight suffered serious injuries and 17 others sustained minor injuries.

The news about the upcoming restart comes as earlier on Wednesday the company confirmed force majeures in logistics operations for naphtha, ethylene and propylene offtakes into the site.

In its latest update late Wednesday, BASF said that after "intensive assessment of the safety status" and in close coordination with authorities the crackers would gradually resume production in coming days.

The company advised residents in neighbouring areas to expect noise and flaring activity, beginning 20 October, as excess gases will be burned off in the restart process.

BASF said that it was currently preparing an alternative naphtha supply for the crackers via the harbour on Friesenheim Island. This supply is decoupled from the incident area.

When the crackers are started up, most of the affected plants also will be gradually restarted or will increase production over the next few days, the company said.

In total, 24 plants have been shut down, including the crackers, due to the fire. Other units on the massive Ludwigshafen site were able to continue producing, using existing raw material inventory, the company said. 

The fire damaged various pipelines including those for externally purchased raw materials, and BASF therefore declared force majeure for the purchase of naphtha, ethylene and propylene.

Measures are being evaluated to minimise the impact on customer deliveries.

"BASF is in close contact with its customers to keep them informed about the current availability of products," the company said.

As for the status of logistics at Ludwigshafen, the site’s North Harbour is currently not operational. However, the riverside harbour, the harbour on Friesenheim Island and the tank farms are functional.

The intermodal transport terminal is currently closed for safety reasons. The facility is not damaged and can be accessed after being cleared. The railway system was also not damaged by the incident, the company said.

The train service on-site is available. The incoming and outgoing rail traffic is being handled via the southern exit, since the northern exit is currently closed due to safety reasons.

Additional reporting by Nel Weddle

INSET IMAGE: An aerial view on Monday at BASF's Ludwigshafen site northern harbor in Germany. (Source: Unverified footage from YouTube user Ulli Z)

By Stefan Baumgarten