February, 2015

This is a repeating event

201518FebAll DayExxonmobil (Torrance) Refinery Explosion 2015ExxonMobil Torrance (US-CA) Origin: CSB Lessons:Asset integrity,Operating Procedures,Operational Integrity,Risk AssessmentIndustry:RefiningCountry:United StatesLanguage:ENLoC:Confined explosion

Summary

On Wednesday, February 18, 2015, an explosion occurred in the ExxonMobil Torrance, California refinery’s Electrostatic Precipitator (ESP), a pollution control device in the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit that removes catalyst particles using charged plates that produce sparks (potential ignition sources) during normal operation. The incident occurred when ExxonMobil was attempting to isolate equipment for maintenance while the unit was in an idled mode of operation; preparations for the maintenance activity caused a pressure deviation that allowed hydrocarbons to backflow through the process and ignite in the ESP.

The CSB found that this incident occurred due to weaknesses in the ExxonMobil Torrance refinery’s process safety management system. These weaknesses led to operation of the FCC unit without pre-established safe operating limits and criteria for unit shutdown, reliance on safeguards that could not be verified, the degradation of a safety-critical safeguard, and the re-use of a previous procedure deviation without a sufficient hazard analysis that confirmed that the assumed process conditions were still valid. .

KEY ISSUES:
• LACK OF SAFE OPERATING LIMITS & OPERATING PROCEDURE
• SAFEGUARD EFFECTIVENESS
• OPERATING EQUIPMENT BEYOND SAFE OPERATING LIFE
• RE-USE OF PREVIOUS PROCEDURE VARIANCE WITHOUT SUFFICIENT HAZARD ANALYSIS

ROOT CAUSES:
1. ExxonMobil did not establish the safe operating limits for operating the FCC unit in Safe Park (a standby mode of operation) or determine process conditions that required unit shutdown.
2. ExxonMobil did not perform a sufficient hazard analysis to determine if the unit conditions specified in the 2012 procedure were valid for the 2015 operation.
3. ExxonMobil operated FCC unit equipment beyond its predicted safe operating life.
4. ExxonMobil lacked safety instrumentation to detect flammable hydrocarbons flowing through the equipment and into the ESP.
5. ExxonMobil refinery management permitted opening process equipment without conforming to refinery standards.


Image credit: CSB

Origin

CSBUS Chemical Safety Board

X