Sunday, April 01, 2007

Steffy on BP and Chemical Process Safety

Once again, Loren Steffy ventures into a subject that he knows little about (what subject does he?) and that is chemical process safety. His venture attempts to find a causal link between cost cutting at the BP refinery and the 2005 accident that caused 15 deaths. Here is an example of Steffy's analysis from this:
More than a decade of cutbacks in maintenance and training culminated on March 23, 2005, with a tanker-size load of liquid hydrocarbons spewing forth from an aging vent stack.

The liquid ignited in less than two minutes and the ensuing fireball turned a temporary office trailer into a deathtrap.
Of course, Steffy can't be bothered to read the BP accident report or he would realize that the accident resulted from four causes:
• LOSS OF CONTAINMENT
• RAFFINATE SPLITTER STARTUP PROCEDURES AND APPLICATION OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
• CONTROL OF WORK AND TRAILER SITING
• DESIGN AND ENGINEERING OF THE BLOWDOWN STACK

As a chemical engineer, I would say the faulty startup procedure and the blowdown stack design were the bigger cause of the incident than the others. It is apparent to me that the operators who started it up on night shift and those that took over on day shift has many opportunities to prevent this incident, but failed to recognize the hazards. One thing everyone must realize is that from the time the column startup began unit the fire was almost than 11 hours. That is right, they started filling the column at 2:35 am and the incident occurred at 1:19 pm.

I wish some could explain this to Steffy, but he just beats the drum on cost cutting measures. Other than having the atmospheric vent and faulty instruments, I fail to see the causal link to this line of reasoning. But, then, I am not a highly paid Chronicle columnist, just a chemical engineer with 16 years experience in the chemical industry.

2 Comments:

At Monday, April 02, 2007 10:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that your conclusions regarding cost cutting is supportable in light of the CSB Final Accident Report (www.csb.gov) and the associated (internal and external) documents (based 35 years experience in the process industry). You can also see more documents at http://www.texascityexplosion.com/

William(Bill) L. Mostia Jr. PE
wlmostia@msn.com

 
At Monday, April 02, 2007 4:31:00 PM, Blogger Jim VAT said...

Thanks for your comment Mr. Mostia. I tend to depart from the official CSB report and look at the evidence myself. As I stated, I have 16 years experience in the industry and it appears you have 35 (if I read your comment correct), so let's start this discussion right here as to what cost cutting factors contributed to this specific incident.

I already stated that the atmospheric vents should have been replaced with a proper flare many years ago. I also stated that instrument failure contributed. However, starting up a column is a relatively fundamental unit operation. I have done it many, many times in my career. The operators and supervisors should have known something was very wrong and shut it down. All it would have taken is basic hazard recognition, which of course is the basis for preventing most incidents of this type.

What is your viewpoint, aside from the CSB report?

 

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