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Preventing Refinery Explosions

Refinery explosions are amongst the most catastrophic industrial accidents that occur. Working with volatile chemicals, extremely high temperatures and harmful vapours can be extremely high risk. Fortunately, safety precautions and technology have improved significantly and these kinds of accidents are becoming increasingly rare and less devastating. This was illustrated when, earlier this year, the effects of an explosion at a refinery in California failed to cause comparable damage to one ten years previously in Texas thanks to its specialised HVAC system.

Using Effective Explosion Proof HVAC – California, 2015

In February this year, an ExxonMobil refinery in California suffered an explosion near a fluid catalytic cracking unit. These units handle petroleum heated to around 715°C and highly pressurised. Very flammable vapour is also present in this process, making this explosion extremely dangerous. Fortunately, customised air handling units prevented the escape of the vapour ensuring that the damage was limited to this unit and the three employees who were injured were not badly hurt. Although this accident caused considerable damage to the structure around it, the specialised HVAC system and safety precautions minimised its wider impact.

Before Effective Explosion Proof HVAC – Texas City, 2005

The lack of this sort of HVAC technology meant an entirely different outcome 10 years earlier in Texas City. In 2005, a BP refinery, the third largest in the USA, exploded, killing 15 people and injuring 170 more. It was considered the worst workplace accident in the USA since 1989. Workers were filling a unit with gasoline when it overflowed into a back-up unit, which also overflowed, and caused gasoline to spout into the air. This created a layer of vapour near the ground. No ventilation system was in place to disperse this vapour and it was ignited by a spark from an idling vehicle. The office trailers nearby were completely destroyed, killing everyone inside.

Explosion Prevention

Fortunately, as the comparison between these two accidents shows, explosions in oil refineries have become less dangerous to employees. However, they still present considerable risk and the nature of the business will always make very serious incidents a possibility.

Modern HVAC systems, designed with explosion proofing, make a real difference to the safety of these facilities and, if they are specifically designed to fit the exact needs of the operation, can make the working lives of employees more pleasant and far safer.

Transcool Systems can design and install HVAC systems tailored perfectly to your specific needs. Call us now on 01903 733911 or email info@transcoolsystems.co.uk.