December 27, 2010



Defense Less? The story of Deepwater Horizons last moments

An investigation by the New York Times graphically depicts the last moments of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.The article mentions the following:

"What emerges is a stark and singular fact: crew members died and suffered terrible injuries because every one of the Horizon’s defenses failed on April 20. Some were deployed but did not work. Some were activated too late, after they had almost certainly been damaged by fire or explosions. Some were never deployed at all.At critical moments that night, members of the crew hesitated and did not take the decisive steps needed. Communications fell apart, warning signs were missed and crew members in critical areas failed to coordinate a response.The result, the interviews and records show, was paralysis. For nine long minutes, as the drilling crew battled the blowout and gas alarms eventually sounded on the bridge, no warning was given to the rest of the crew. For many, the first hint of crisis came in the form of a blast wave.

The paralysis had two main sources, the examination by The Times shows. The first was a failure to train for the worst. The Horizon was like a Gulf Coast town that regularly rehearsed for Category 1 hurricanes but never contemplated the hundred-year storm. The crew members, though expert in responding to the usual range of well problems, were unprepared for a major blowout followed by explosions, fires and a total loss of power.They were also frozen by the sheer complexity of the Horizon’s defenses, and by the policies that explained when they were to be deployed. One emergency system alone was controlled by 30 buttons".

"The industry has long depicted blowout preventers as “the ultimate fail-safe.” But Transocean says the Horizon’s blowout preventer was simply incapable of preventing this blowout. Evidence is mounting, however, that the blowout preventer may have been crippled by poor maintenance. Investigators have found a host of problems — dead batteries, bad solenoid valves, leaking hydraulic lines — that were overlooked or ignored. Transocean had also never performed an expensive 90-day maintenance inspection that the manufacturer said should be done every three to five years. Industry standards and federal regulations said the same thing. BP and a Transocean safety consultant had pointed out that the Horizon’s blowout preventer, a decade old, was past due for the inspection.

Transocean decided that its regular maintenance program was adequate for the time being."

Read the full article in this link.

December 24, 2010

Static charge + Flammable dust = EXPLOSION

A news article mentions that OSHA is investigating an explosion that occurred on Thursday morning,caused by static charge and flammable dust at a facility in the US.
"Six employees were working, but none were near the eruption, said Trumbauersville Fire Chief Josh Mallery.“They were very lucky,” said Mallery, whose company led the blaze battling effort. The explosion blew an interior wall eight inches back off the foundation and sparked spot fires in the walls, said Rafferty. A corrugated roll up door was blown out, its bottom half ripped off and flung about 30 feet. A portion of the plant’s exterior wall bellied out, and a heap of cinderblocks from the structure tumbled on the ground outside the plant.“It was amazing. I’ve been a firefighter for 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Mallery.
Fearing more explosions, firefighters first directed their hoses at about 1,200 pounds of Polyclar10, the powdered substance that was at the root of the explosion. In a wetted, condensed form, the powder does not pose the explosive threat it does when airborne as fine, particulate dust, said Mallery.
Firefighters then concentrated on extinguishing the flames. “It was about 2 ½ hours before we had the situation stabilized,” said Mallery.The explosion happened while the Polycar10 was being packaged. The packaging equipment was grounded to prevent static charges that could combust the compound, but a bag the powder was being deposited into was not grounded, said Rafferty. As the powder moved across the plastic interior of the bag, a static charge was generated, providing the heat source that ignited the powder, which is used to clarify beer before bottling, the fire marshal said".
Read the full article in this link

Mumbai Port Chlorine gas leak - recommendations

The PIB has published the recommendations of the expert committee set up to probe the chlorine gas leak from old cylinders I had mentioned in my earlier post. One of the recommendations states "The Head of Civil and Mechanical Engineering Department of MbPT should take immediate action to repair the fire hydrant system and ensure that the fire hydrant system is in working condition. This activity shall be completed by 31st, December, 2010".
Maintain your fire water systems. You never know when they will be needed.
Read the PIB press release in this link.

December 23, 2010

US Unions view of oil industry safety

An union in the US has told the CSB which is currently investigating the BP oil rig disaster about the following issues regarding safety:

"After the 2005 Texas City blast" which killed at least 15 people at BP's USW-represented Texas City, Texas refinery, "We got a federal grant to develop a process safety curriculum," he explained. "It was approved by OSHA and we offered it, for free, to the companies," where USW would train workers in safety, "if they would just pay the salaries of workers to come to it" for 3-day sessions, he added. They turned it down.

The industry's attitude extends down to the local level, the two Alaskans said. At Prudhoe Bay, until local management changed last year, bonuses depended on how few accidents managers reported. Health and safety data was "manipulated" and workers did not report accidents "for fear of being disciplined," Trimmer, Local 4959's secretary-treasurer, said. BP has "a safety matrix" for each pipeline work area, with standards set for how few accidents are allowed. Report more, the 30-year veteran said, and supervisors lose bonuses.

"One guy had a bad vehicle accident. He had a broken leg and didn't report if for three hours. When he finally had to and we asked him why he delayed, he responded that he feared being fired," Trimmer said. Overtime and fatigue are also problems: 18-hour days for 2-week stretches are technically banned, so workers toil 16 hours. Guenther, a 25-year chief steward at Prudhoe, said that from 1979 to 1994, management emphasized preventive maintenance on the pipeline, but things have gone downhill since. Workers left and were not replaced, while the oil field he worked at doubled in size. Only recently has new hiring exceeded retirements, Guenther added.

"We went from preventive maintenance to running around fixing problems at all hours of the day and night," even in Alaska's sub-zero cold, Guenther said. Problems pile up and are shoved into "a backlog." Structures at the pipeline are reaching the end of their useful working lives, 15-25 years old, developing cracks that are patched. And BP rejected the local's contract proposal for a full-time health and safety specialist.

"We have to fundamentally change how we regulate this industry - and there's an even wider gap between regulation and the industry" than elsewhere, Wright told the CSB. "What we need are effective management programs, with strong regulation, backed by strong unionization and strong worker involvement" in safety"

Read the article in this link

December 22, 2010

Two killed after inhaling nitrogen gas

Thanks to Mr Shritharan for sending news about a nitrogen gas leak that has killed two people in a pharma plant in Hyderabad. Reason is under investigation. The incident happened in the night shift.You should always be careful when dealing with hazardous gases. My condolences to the family of the bereaved.
Read more about the incident in this link.
Read an updated news article in this link

December 21, 2010

Pipeline explosion -"Rivers of Fire"

A pipeline in Mexico has failed due to thieves reportedly trying to steal oil from it. 28 people have been reported to be killed. The video in the news article shows a "river of fire". Could this tragic incident have been prevented? In India we do have a large number of cross country pipelines. The reliability of safety shutdown systems and compartmentalization of pipelines to isolate leaky sections immediately is very important. More important are the actions of the operators and staff manning the control stations. Ensure that clear unambiguous instructions are communicated to them detailing the steps to be taken in the event of a leak. An operator sitting in a control room manning a cross country grid is going to be very hesitant to stop flow as the ramifications are huge. This is where automatic shutdown systems and their maintenance becomes very important.
Read the news article about the incident with video in this link.
For an article about India's petroleum and gas pipeline network, read it in this link.

December 20, 2010

Safety valves and their importance

A news article (a little old) mentions about an accident in an alumina digestor plant where 2 persons were killed apparently when a safety valve "exploded" and spread chemical around . Safety valves will do their job of relieving pressure if they are properly maintained and erected. Many times, plant and mechanical personnel do not bother to observe whether the safety valve downtake pipe (if open to atmosphere) is located away from personnel. The testing of safety valves is very important. All data regarding safety valves must be preserved carefully as part of your asset integrity program.
Read about the incident in this link.

December 17, 2010

Behind every major incident is one or more near misses!

An article in the Wall Street Journal mentions that "BP PLC narrowly averted potential disaster after a 2008 natural gas leak at a field it operates in Azerbaijan, about 18 months before the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico triggered the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history". "The gas leak, which was disclosed in BP's 2008 annual report and was widely covered by news agencies at the time, occurred in the offshore Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli (ACG) field, Azerbaijan's largest, in September 2008. As a precaution, BP evacuated 211 workers from the site of the leak and partially shut down production from the field.Details that emerge from cables—written by unnamed diplomats in the U.S. embassy in the Azeri capital of Baku and posted on the WikiLeaks website—show how dramatic and potentially dangerous the gas release was. One cable said that BP was "fortunate" to have been able to evacuate all the workers safely and prevent the gas from igniting, given the "explosive potential" of the leak".

Behind every major incidents there are a number of warnings! Read the full article in this link.

Dust explosions

After the Imperial sugar dust explosion incident, a lot of awareness has been created regarding dust explosions, even though it was well known even prior to the incident that dust explosions are very dangerous. An article mentions the following to reduce the chances of dust explosion:
"1.Properly assess your dust's fire and explosion characteristics so adequate measures can be taken for the prevention and mitigation of hazards in your own facilities and, if you are shipping the dust to some other facilities, at those locations.
2. Understand your own powder handling and processing operations. You should be able to identify likely ignition sources during both normal and abnormal operating conditions. Also pinpoint location(s) where combustible dust clouds could exist during normal and abnormal operating conditions.
3. Take effective measures to avoid or control ignition sources and formation of combustible dust clouds. Also consider explosion protection (such as venting and suppression) and isolation to lower the risk to a tolerable level.
4. Maintain dust explosion prevention and mitigation measures".
Read the full article in this link.
Another article about the ongoing investigation on the explosion in the AL solutions plant in by the CSB mentions that the CSB is also looking at the possibility of explosion of zirconium the article in this link.

December 15, 2010

Welding procedures and pipelines

The ongoing investigation in the San Bruno natural gas pipeline rupture by the NTSB has revealed that while longitudinal seams on some of the pipe segments were fusion-welded from both inside and outside the pipe, some were fusion-welded only from the outside of the pipe.The pipeline was erected in 1956 and the standards at that time are being looked into. As per the NTSB, "The investigation is still in an early phase and there is much factual information to be developed before the Safety Board is positioned to determine the probable cause of the accident."
Read the full article in this link.

December 14, 2010

Facility siting - different countries, different approaches

I read an interesting article where an expert in Canada testifies against the construction of a residential complex next to a chemical facility. The article mentions that "Gaade (the expert) gave testimony about several scenarios he examined to determine the effects of an accident at the chemical plant, and although he said BioVectra has one of the safest plants he’s been in, putting an apartment building next to it is not an acceptable risk. “I’ve never seen it before anywhere other than Third World countries,” Gaade said."
Now, In India, the main problem is lack of will in enforcing the existing laws. Many chemical plants come up in isolated areas but after some years, residences spring up around the plant, with the authorities knowing about it. The IOC Jaipur oil depot where a major fire occurred, is an example.
When will we ever learn? Read the article in this link.

December 13, 2010

Emergency management - the human factor

The dynamic positioning operator’s (DPO) testimony to the enquiry committee of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster reveals the following: The operator had to deal with a large number of combustible gas alarms getting activated when the blow out occurred. The general alarm system was on “MANUAL” (in other words, even though a lot of combustible gas alarms were going on, the general alarm could get sounded only if the operator manually activated it). (Shades of Piper Alpha??) The operator was not trained on a situation where multiple gas alarms went off.

Reading the testimony of the DPO, the one thought that struck me was the chaotic situation she was dealing with. Every Human being reacts differently to emergency situations. When I was an asst. Shift in charge in an ammonia plant, we had a newly transferred shift in charge who had earlier worked most of his career in the utility plant. His way of dealing with any emergency situation in the ammonia plant was to run to the utility plant ( he was more comfortable there!). Are you training your operators for the worst case scenario? Here simulators play an important role and you should make the training scenario as realistic as possible.

Read the DPO’s enquiry transcript in this link.