All too frequently we are reminded, in sobering fashion, of the dangers that accompany the petrochemical industry. Day in and day out, the workers at petrochemical facilities are surrounded by combustible liquids and gases, often stored and transported under tremendous pressure. The consequences of what could appear to be a small mistake can cascade into a catastrophic accident.
Because of this reality, there is great pressure to engineer, construct, and maintain facility equipment to ensure proper functionality and adequate integrity. Furthermore, facility employees must be sufficiently trained to operate the equipment and be fully aware of the hazards around them. The industry has been increasingly focused on safety over the years, yet incidents can still happen. The recent fire at the ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge is one example.
On November 22, volatile isobutane vapors were released from the alkylation unit at the ExxonMobil refinery. This sparked what the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has called “a combustion incident,” resulting in the injury of six refinery employees. Of the six injured workers, two required first aid and four were hospitalized and listed in serious condition with burn injuries.
The fire was contained within 14 minutes, mitigating the even more disastrous consequences that could have arisen if the fire were to spread to other units at the plant. The alkylation unit, which mixes olefins and isobutane in the presence of a sulfuric acid catalyst, was undergoing a turnaround and maintenance activities were underway at the time of the fire. The investigation into the root cause of the fire is still ongoing.
When incidents like this occur in the industry, response and recovery efforts are extremely important. Of equal importance is the learning that occurs after such somber events. Whether the root causes be equipment related, human error, weather events, or anything else, understanding these causal factors and implementing protective measures industrywide will help change the industry for the better.
At Bercen, we understand the risks and hazards associated with making the petrochemical products that make our lives better. It is our utmost priority to protect the health of our employees and our neighbors, as well as being responsible to the environment. The fire at the ExxonMobil refinery less than 30 miles down the road from the Bercen facility in Denham Springs, Louisiana, is a close reminder we must stay ever vigilant of the dangers of our industry. Our thoughts are with the injured workers and their family and friends as they recover from this most unfortunate accident.
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