Philadelphia refinery explosion video summary

Jonathan Brun

Oil & Gas refineries are so unbelievably complex. I recently visited the largest Oil & Gas Refinery in Canada and was amazed at the shear quantity of parts, pieces, people, processes and regulatory obligations. Most refineries operate safely and in compliance thanks to dedicated teams of professionals and software and engineering solutions such as Nimonik. Occasionally, a problem does arise that puts lives and the environment at risk. In 2019, there was an incident at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery and the the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) just released a new safety video about the fire, explosions, and toxic hydrofluoric acid (HF).

The incident caused the release of over 5,000 pounds of highly toxic HF, launched a 38,000-pound vessel fragment off-site, and resulted in an estimated #loss of 750 million dollars. The video includes an animation of the sequence of events leading to the incident, and comments from the CSB’s Interim Executive Authority Steve Owens and Lead Investigator Lauren Grim.

In the video, Interim Executive Authority Owens says, “Thankfully, despite the urban location of the PES Refinery, the local community was not seriously harmed. But it could have been worse. This incident should be a wake-up call to #industry and #regulators to take every step possible to prevent a similar event from occurring.”

The report did not find any clear compliance violations, but they did identify some opportunities for both the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) to improve their standards and regulations.

The recommendations are aimed strengthening industry #standards and #regulations regarding several key safety issues found at PES including a lack of remotely operated emergency isolation valves, the need to ensure safeguard reliability in HF alkylation units, and the consideration of inherently safer design. Though no clear compliance violations were found, PES had not updated its procedures to comply with the most current EPA regulations due to a grandfathering exception for older refineries. Nevertheless, it is clear that staying in compliance with the most up-to-date regulations and standards is usually a good thing, though it does often have capital costs.

Full report can be found here.