Philadelphia Fire Cause; Alerts Aging U.S. Refineries

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery is one of the 30 in the U.S. that are more than 100 years old. Also, over 100 operating U.S. refineries that alter more than 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day are, on average, 80 years old.

Refineries usually update their systems and oust old parts. Still, the PES fire, along with the circumstances in Washington state and California, arise from equipment installed in the 1970s.

The suspected cause of the PES explosion raised fears about future happenings because of the grow given to refiners for inspecting parts. Also, some older equipment is exempt from the tighter standard for newly equipped parts.

Former CSB managing director said a lot of refineries around the U.S. are quite old now. That does not mean that the equipment dates back to the founding; they are old and eventually can fail.

Philadelphia blaze was linked to corroded piping that was not checked since it was installed in 1973. Also, the fire is still under investigation by the CSB and other public agencies.

It caused a fuel leak and blasts that sent toxic HF into the air and threw debris across a nearby river.

PES filed for bankruptcy protection after the fire.

Failing decades-old material also sparked a 2010 Tesoro refinery explosion in Anacortes, Washington.

All these cases, the failed equipment have metal components that were no longer up to industry standards. Contrarily, their use did not violate regulations. Regulators offer exceptions for older parts and do not need all pieces of plant machinery to be checked.

The CSB report prompted a letter from top law enforcement officials in 13 states, including Pennsylvania, to the U.S. EPA. They argue against a proposed decrease in regulations aimed at preventing accidents involving chemicals like HF.


Philadelphia Energy Solutions on Oil Refinery Safety

Regulators managing U.S. oil refinery safety, primarily the U.S. OSHA and the EPA, allow some refinery materials to keep being used.

The disrupt PES pipe contained levels of nickel and copper that permitted when installed. Hence, they are not recommended to use after two-decade by ASTM International. That pipe elbow eroded at a faster rate than other parts of the system.

API has 175 suggested codes that act as the refinery industry’s standards. The API inspection principle for HF alkylation units used in about one-third of U.S. refineries does not need to be inspected.

API spokesman said that its principle for HF units recognized as the safest way to operate those units.

Furthermore, PES said it monitored other pieces of the piping system, including a test of a metal elbow near the one that split. Also, the testing did not show vast levels of corrosion.

The CSB findings added to actual concerns by employees about maintenance at the PES refinery. Also, in January, it cut back the extent of a planned large-scale maintenance project days before the schedule to start.

PES business agents and managers said the work would need 1,500 and 1,800 contract workers. Contrarily, it slashed to just 300 contractors, while unused pipes and other components delivered to the plant.

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