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Case Studies

BP Texas City

"At approximately 1:20 p.m. on March 23, 2005, a series of explosions occurred at the BP Texas City refinery during the restarting of a hydrocarbon isomerization unit. Fifteen workers were killed and 180 others were injured. Many of the victims were in or around work trailers located near an atmospheric vent stack. The explosions occurred when a distillation tower flooded with hydrocarbons and was overpressurized, causing a geyser-like release from the vent stack." US Chemical Safety Board.      

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Flixborough UK

FlixbroughThe Flixborough disaster was an explosion at a chemical plant close to the village of Flixborough (near Scunthorpe), North Lincolnshire, England, on 1 June 1974.

It killed 28 people and seriously injured 36.

Background

The chemical plant, owned by Nypro (UK) (a joint venture between Dutch State Mines and the British National Coal Board), and in operation since 1967, produced caprolactam, a precursor chemical used in the manufacture of nylon. The process involved oxidation of cyclohexane with air in a series of six reactors to produce a mixture of cyclohexanol and cyclohexanone. Two months prior to the explosion, a crack was discovered in the number 5 reactor. It was decided to install a temporary 50 cm (20 inch) diameter pipe to bypass the leaking reactor to allow continued operation of the plant while repairs were made.
Residents of the village of Flixborough were not keen to have such a large industrial development so close to their homes and had expressed concern when the plant was first proposed.

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Challenger

The Space Shuttle Challenger brokeup 73 seconds after launch. The accident caused the deaths of all seven crew members of the mission.

The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program and the formation of the Rogers Commission, a special commission appointed by United States President Ronald Reagan to investigate the accident. The Rogers Commission found that NASA's organizational culture and decision-making processes had been a key contributing factor to the accident. NASA managers had known that contractor Morton Thiokol's design of the SRBs contained a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings since 1977, but they failed to address it properly. They also ignored warnings from engineers about the dangers of launching on such a cold day and had failed to adequately report these technical concerns to their superiors. The Rogers Commission offered NASA nine recommendations that were to be implemented before shuttle flights resumed. 

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Bhopal

A massive discharge of a chemical took place at Union Carbide's factory at Bhopal, Madya Pradesh, India, during the night of 2nd December 1984.  

The accident started when a tank containing methylisocyanate (MIC) started to leak. MIC is an extremely reactive chemical and is used in production of the insecticide carbaryl.

About one-third of the town's total population of 800,000 were afflicted. About 100,000 of these received some kind of medical treatment, about 50,000 were hospitalized and about 2,500 received lethal injuries.  In addition, about 7,000 animals were injured, of which about one thousand were killed.

The accident developed into the largest industrial disaster ever to occur.

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Chernobyl Russia

The "Chernobyl disaster", reactor accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, or simply "Chernobyl", was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and the only instance so far of level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, resulting in a severe nuclear meltdown.

On 26 April 1986 at 01:23:40 a.m. (UTC+3) reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant located in the Soviet Union near Pripyat in Ukraine exploded. Further explosions and the resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area.

The plume drifted over parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Northern Europe, and eastern North America. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people. According to official post-Soviet data, about 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus.  

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Esso Longford gas explosion

The 1998 Esso Longford gas explosion was a catastrophic industrial accident which occurred at the Esso natural gas plant at Longford in the Australian state of Victoria's Gippsland region. On 25 September 1998, an explosion took place at the plant, killing two workers and injuring eight. Gas supplies to the state of Victoria were severely affected for two weeks.

Context
In 1998, the Longford gas plant was owned by a joint partnership between Esso and BHP. Esso was responsible for the operation of the plant. Esso was a wholly owned subsidiary of US based company Exxon, which has since merged with Mobil, becoming Exxon Mobil. BHP has since merged with UK based Billiton becoming BHP Billiton.

Built in 1969, the plant at Longford is the onshore receiving point for oil and natural gas output from production platforms in Bass Strait. The Longford Gas Plant Complex consists of three gas processing plants and one crude oil stabilisation plant. It was the primary provider of natural gas to Victoria, and provided some supply to New South Wales.

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Piper Alpha

1988 News Flash:  High death toll feared in Oil Rig Blaze

  • A fire on a North Sea Oil Rig is feared to have claimed the lives of many of those on board.
  • The fire is believed to have started after explosions at about 2230 BST (2130 GMT) on the Piper Alpha drilling platform, 120 miles (193km) off the north-east coast of Scotland.
  • Helicopters and boats were immediately scrambled to rescue the oil workers in an operation coordinated by the Aberdeen coastguard.
  • Pilots reported seeing an "inferno" up to 350ft (107m) high and a platform wrenched apart.
  • It is thought approximately 225 men were working on the rig owned by Occidental Oil.
  • Survivors are being airlifted to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary – many are seriously injured.
  • Most of those who have been rescued so far said they survived by sliding down pipes or jumping hundreds of feet into the sea which was covered in burning oil.
  • The Piper Alpha platform is the largest and oldest platform in the North Sea oilfield.
  • Last week there was a small fire on the rig.
  • Since drilling began in the North Sea in the 1970s there have been 300 deaths on Britain 's 123 oil installations, often in accidents caused by bad weather.
  • The ill-maintained and overloaded North Sea oil rig Piper Alpha was destroyed in a fire nearly 18 years ago.
  • Leaking gas on the Occidental Oil drilling platform ignited late in the evening of 6 July 1988 , causing a devastating blaze which killed 167 of the 226 men on board.
  • Many of the oil workers leapt 100ft (30m) into the sea to escape the fire and toxic fumes, despite being told their jump would almost certainly be fatal.
  • It is still the world's worst-ever offshore oil disaster.
  • A total of 167 people died in the Piper Alpha fire making it the world's worst-ever offshore oil disaster.
  • Most of the victims suffocated in toxic fumes, which developed after a gas leak set off the blasts and sparked the fire.
  • In November 1990 Lord Cullen's report into the disaster severely criticised safety procedures on the rig owned by Occidental Oil.
  • Lord Cullen did not blame any individuals but after a civil action over insurance payments in 1997 two workers who died in the disaster were found to have been negligent.

However, that finding has been contested both by relatives of the men concerned and television documentary investigations.

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