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BASF Blast, Fire Impacts Supply Chain

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

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Two weeks after a fire and explosion in a pipeline at BASF’s chemical plant in Ludwigshafen, Germany, the company is still dealing with the aftereffects in its supply line and investigating the course of events leading to the accident.

As a result of the Oct. 17 blast and subsequent fires at the Ludwigshafen facility, which left three dead and several more injured, product inventories are reportedly nearly exhausted and production output is said to be restricted because of limited access to key raw materials.

On Monday (Oct. 31) the company announced it was declaring force majeure on deliveries of dispersions, dispersion powders and hotmelts on acrylic monomer basis (Acronal, acResin, Acrodur, ACROSOL E 20 D, AQAGloss, Basonal, Col.9, Epotal and Luhydran) from BASF’s sites in Ludwigshafen and Tarragona until further notice.

Force majeure is a legal term referring a party’s inability to fulfill a contract due to unforeseeable circumstances or events out of one’s control.

BASF’s Dispersions & Pigments division develops, produces and markets a range of pigments, resins, additives and polymer dispersions worldwide. These raw materials are used in formulations for coatings and paints, printing and packaging products, construction chemicals, adhesives, fiber bondings, plastics, paper as well as for electronic applications such as displays.

Supply Capability Impact

While the plants for the products listed above are not affected by the incident, logistics and raw materials have been upset, the company noted.

Due to the fire, the raw material supply of the steam crackers was temporarily halted, and other plants, especially in the ethylene and propylene value chains, were idled or production reduced, the company said in an accident update, issued Thursday (Oct. 27).

Some of the plants were able to continue producing using existing raw material inventory, and several plants, including the Ludwigshafen steam crackers, have since resumed production. In the coming weeks the remaining plants will be gradually restarted, BASF said.

Steam crackers at Ludwigshafen
Photos: BASF SE

Steam cracker II (shown here) is the largest individual plant at BASF's Ludwigshafen site, covering a surface area of about 64,000 square meters. Although initially shut down after the Oct. 17 explosion and fires, both steam crackers have since resumed operation.

Moreover, under the current circumstances, access by delivery via barge, rail or tank car is also reportedly limited.

The North Harbor is currently not operational, according to BASF, although two other harbors and the tank farms are said to be functional. Safety measures prohibit access at one gate for trucks, but this is expected to reopen within the week.

Although the company indicated it cannot specify at this time how long supply and logistics will continue to be impacted, it is employing measures to limit the consequences for customers. It also plans to provide ongoing information on any developments and details regarding the supply capability with the affected products.

Investigation Continues

In the Oct. 27 accident update, BASF indicated that the incident is still under investigation by the public prosecutor’s office of Frankenthal, and the incident site remains secured.

However, the company gave more insight into the pipeline involved in the explosion.

According to BASF, a specialized pipeline construction company began work on a deflated and secured ethylene pipeline route to exchange parts as a preventive maintenance measure just a few days before the blast and fires.

The fire reportedly started near this assembly works site, and after forces from the BASF fire department, emergency service and environment protection arrived on the scene to begin emergency operations, an explosion occurred, most likely at the ethylene pipeline, BASF said.

The explosion led to subsequent fires at various points along the pipeline trench, damaging further product and supply pipelines, bringing more emergency teams on site to begin rescue measures and enact extinguishing and cooling measures.

Kurt Boch

BASF lost three employees in the accident. "Our deepest sympathy is with their families and friends. Many people were injured, some of them severely,” Dr. Kurt Bock, chairman of BASF’s Board of Executive Directors, said at a press conference after the incident. "Our thoughts are with them and their families and friends. We hope that they are on the way to recovery.”

The fire brigade performed controlled burning of the leaking products in accordance with the fire-fighting concept for compressed gases. The pipelines that burned reportedly included those used for ethylene (used in producing solvents and insulation), propylene (used in producing car paint and adhesives), a butylene product mix (raffinate), pyrolysis gasoline and ethylhexanol.

“We mourn two colleagues from the fire department and the seaman who died in the fire,” Dr. Kurt Bock, chairman of BASF’s Board of Executive Directors, said at a press conference after the incident.

“Our deepest sympathy is with their families and friends. Many people were injured, some of them severely. Our thoughts are with them and their families and friends. We hope that they are on the way to recovery.”

Cut Pipeline

On Oct. 26, the District Attorney of Frankenthal/Palatinate and the Police Headquarters of Rheinpfalz issued a progress report on the investigation that indicated a cut had been made in the pipeline.

An excerpt of the departments’ press release, translated by BASF, noted: “This was apparently done with a cutting disc. Maintenance work using an angle grinder was in progress on an adjacent pipeline. The cut pipeline was not part of this work. This pipeline contained flammable raffinate.”

Based on the preliminary analysis, BASF suggested the following potential chain of events: “The cut pipeline contained a butylene mixture. BASF assumes that this butylene mixture leaked out and ignited due to the sparks produced by the angle grinder. This could have led to the fire, which caused the described explosion."

The company said it will continue to support the relevant authorities during the investigation into the cause of the accident.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; BASF; Coatings raw materials manufacturers; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Explosions; Fire; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; North America; Pipeline; Polypropylene; Raw materials; Safety

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