A botched start-up process that lacked written procedures, skipped a pre-start safety review, and routed cryogenic liquids through unsuitable equipment touched off the explosion and fire that severely burned an employee of Plains Gas Solutions, federal authorities have concluded.
As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Plains Gas, a subsidiary of Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline L.P., for one willful and eight serious violations and imposed fines totaling $111,000.
Flickr / Mathijs B
|OSHA faulted the re-start process that triggered the explosion.|
The citations stem from a blast that occurred during a restart Feb. 29 at the company’s facility in Eunice, LA.
The company specializes in the production of liquid natural gas through a cryogenic process and employs about 3,800 workers in Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
Plains Gas Solutions did not respond Thursday (Aug. 30) to a request for comment.
Willful, Serious Violations
The willful violation, carrying a $70,000 fine, accuses Plains Gas Solutions of approving a new boiler bypass process “without evaluating the impact of the changes on safety and health.” Nor did the company conduct a pre-start safety review for the modified facility, OSHA said.
In addition, the agency’s inspection turned up a wide variety of life-threatening safety lapses, including inappropriate equipment being used to carry LNG, lack of written procedures, and failure to report multiple gas leaks.
For example, the citations list numerous instances of inaccurate Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams, in which Minimum Design Metallurgical Temperatures were off by 30° Fahrenheit. In one diagram, a unit’s MDMT was off by 130°F, according to OSHA.
OSHA also said the company’s process hazard analysis did not “adequately address the hazards appropriate to the complexity of the process.”
Lack of Procedures, Plans, Reports
Several serious violations detailed multiple lapses in establishing or revising operating procedures, even when significant processes changed or facilities were modified.
For example, OSHA said Plains Gas Solutions did not ensure, when building new plants and equipment, that the equipment was appropriately fabricated for the process for which it would be used. Liquid Natural Gas had chemical properties incompatible with the equipment used with it, according to OSHA.
The company was also accused of lacking written procedures to manage changes in process chemicals, technology, equipment and procedures. OSHA cited a half-dozen instances when facilities were modified, alarms bypassed, a start-up begun, or a new line introduced without written procedures.
Finally, OSHA said the company did not prepare an incident report on three occasions—Dec. 19, Jan. 14, and Feb. 10—when the Sides and Bottom Reboiler in the plant’s Demethanizer Unit “cracked and released hydrocarbon gas.”
Process Safety Management
OSHA has been cracking down on so-called Process Safety Management violations in recent years. Those standards govern processes that involve highly hazardous chemicals.
“Process safety management prevents the unexpected release of toxic, reactive or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals,” said Dorinda Folse, OSHA’s area director in Baton Rouge.
“The terrible incident that occurred at this facility could have been prevented had the company adhered to OSHA’s standards.”
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to contest the citation or comply.