What Are The Causes Of Oil Refinery Explosions?

causes oil refinery explosions

Oil refinery explosions can be incredibly disastrous. Not only do the machinery and facility itself become damaged often beyond repair, but workers and/or people in the surrounding area can be injured during blasts in refineries. Sometimes, the cause(s) of a particular explosion are obvious, but there are instances in which it can take much longer to learn why this occurred. 

Common Reasons Oil Refinery Explosions Happen 

Poor Maintenance Of The Facility 

A number of the recent plant explosions have as their leading cause the fact that it was a poorly maintained facility. Considering all the chemicals that are produced by oil refineries and other industrial plants, it requires a great deal of specialized training to keep them running smoothly and conduct maintenance on them on a regular basis. Workers should inspect, replace, and/or repair equipment on a strict schedule as malfunctions and leaks can lead to serious problems. 

Corrosion Over Time 

Corrosion occurs as a natural process to machinery that’s exposed to oxygen. The nature of oil refineries in particular means that there’s extreme heat for fractional distillation to create refined crude oil. If workers and management overlook corrosion it can get a lot worse and be dangerous to use. 

Chemical Reactions 

An explosion can be the result of application of external force to a chemical compound. When this happens, the compound goes through a structural change, and it releases large amounts of gas and heat. This may be a part of some processes in such a plant, but it also can lead to a disaster if workers are not properly trained or those in charge of this process are being negligent. 

There is a wide range of other contributing factors to explosions in refineries that include electric hazards, malfunctioning equipment, well blowouts, careless cigarette smoking near combustible materials, and improper maintenance of boilers. 

Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining And Marketing LLC Explosion 

One such catastrophe was the leak and subsequent explosion that happened at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery in 2019. This led the plant to be closed permanently. The operator at the time of this explosion pointed the blame at the company who supplied an allegedly mislabeled elbow section of pipe. They’ve even gone as far as to sue the company, which is a big deal since this pipe was installed 46 years before the blast and at the time it was owned by a different company (Gulf Oil). 

While it’s understandable that an owner would bring a lawsuit when there’s evidence that a certain party is at least partially at fault, it’s difficult to say what level of responsibility this other company had after so many years. PES owes a large chunk of their settlement to creditors for liabilities. That had to come from somewhere, so the litigation process of suing the supplier is important. It’s not only beneficial when it comes to getting compensation for injured parties and lost property, but these lawsuits help to set legal precedent and hopefully make it less likely that future mismanagement or negligence will occur. 

The additional danger of oil refinery explosions is the consequence it has on the surrounding neighborhoods. One man stated that he saw black smoke spreading over the city and he was about two miles away from the refinery. Not only his family but a large number of people were at risk of exposure to hydrogen fluoride. This deadly chemical is used frequently by refiners and industrial manufacturers. 

PES is well aware of how dangerous it could have been with a potential total of more than 100,000 pounds of hydrogen fluoride getting released within 10 minutes. It easily could have traveled over 7 miles to impact more than a million individuals. Considering that this incident was only in 2019, it’s uncertain how many more people will come forward with lawsuits after suffering from the results of this explosion. 

Federal Protections For Companies 

It seems that there are several types of protections for companies so that the number of people who are killed by refinery and other industrial accidents is not reported upfront. You can find this information after some digging on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website for both injuries and deaths and in all industries - and the answer is staggering. Still, there are certain types of workers who may not be included even there. For instance, these companies increasingly have been hiring contractors whose information isn’t always listed when they’re employed to conduct work. 

This is why it’s even more crucial to hold the parties who are at fault accountable (whether they’re responsible through negligence or wrongdoing) and change the regulations when it comes to reporting what occurs. With public awareness and people getting involved in activist measures, there is sure to be progress towards having more safeguards and precautions in place at these facilities. 

Every year, there are people who go to attorneys for personal injury claims after becoming injured from an oil refinery explosion. If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of this type of incident, turn to a professional you can trust for more information. You shouldn’t have to go through emotional and physical suffering without compensation for medical bills and more.

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