Refinery blast triggers investigation
Published: 18 January, 2007
Lithuania, October 12th, 2006: Like blasts from giant cannons a series of huge explosions shattered the peace of Lithuania’s coastal city, Mazeikiu.
Lithuania, October 12th, 2006: Like blasts from giant cannons a series of huge explosions shattered the peace of Lithuania’s coastal city, Mazeikiu. The detonations at Mazeikiu Nafta - the nation’s only crude oil refinery in the Baltic - initiated a huge fire which caused more than 45m Euros (£30m/US$54m) in damage to the plant.
“This fire was largely confined to a diesel complex of the 1960s-era refinery, with flames shooting 500 feet into the air,” Saulius Vorauskas, an official at the refinery, told IFJ.
The fire began at 2:34 pm after a spillage of oil products at a vacuum distillation unit, a core section of one of three major production centres.
Lithuanian Fire and Rescue Department spokesman, Giedrius Druktenis, said: “A 50 metre (164 ft) cracking tower caught fire and collapsed immediately before a series of explosions was heard. The fire department co-ordination centre sent 23 firefighting vehicles to tackle the fire, which initially engulfed 800 square metres (8,611 sq ft) of ground.”
Mazeikiu Nafta has an annual refining capacity of 15 million tons of crude oil and employs 3,200 people. At the end of July 2006, Russia ceased supplying the refinery with oil after pipeline damage was discovered on a spur in Belarus, which the pipe crosses before reaching Lithuania.
Russian officials have since declined to say when supplies would be renewed, citing costly repairs. As a result, Mazeikiu Nafta was forced to import crude by tanker via the Baltic Sea to continue operations.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said the damage was significant. “At this stage the refinery will not be able to operate at full capacity for several months,’’ he said. Prosecutors launched an investigation into the cause of the fire and have employed a team from Williams Fire & Hazard Control, headed by Jerry Craft, Lead Firefighter for the company, to determine what went wrong .
The Williams connection
Kelvin Hardingham is a fire professional with the biggest territory in the world - he is Regional Manager for Europe, Middle East & Africa, for Texas-based Williams Fire & Hazard Control.
WF&HC is unique to the special hazards fire protection industry because it offers a comprehensive package of emergency response capabilities - it has undertaken hundreds of specialised firefighting and industrial loss operations during its history.
“Over 100 flammable liquid fires have been extinguished by us over the last 20 years,” comments Kelvin. “Among these are over 50 storage tank fires - 16 of these were larger than 100 feet in diameter. WF&HC extinguished the four largest flammable liquid tank fires on record - with a 270-foot diameter fuel storage tank setting a new world record in 1990. So, as you can imagine, we really do know about monitors.”
WF&HC is the company which, in the 1980s, originally developed the 2000 Hydrojet currently used by Conoco Humberside in the UK, and following on from this developed the 2x6 Gun used by many of Europe’s refineries.
The BIG FOOT 14,000 Gpm Gun is the largest one the company manufactures - this is a straight gallonage monitor designed to flow whatever you put through it at an optimum 100psi, says Kelvin. “We have already made a commitment to a non-aspirated monitor. To throw a liquid any distance you need weight - the heavier it is the further you can throw it.”
WF&HC recently developed Thunderstorm foam and subjected it to 147 separate tests. “We wanted to test it against a difficult fire which might be faced by the oil industry,” says Kelvin. “In this case it was blended gasoline and crude oils. We were looking for an equal performance with Lightwater ATC (a discontinued 3M foam) but at 1% proportioning not 3%.
“It’s more expensive but you only need a third of the previous stock supplies and that saves on the need for a tanker and storage facilities.”
What kind of monitors?
At incidents like the UK’s Buncefield disaster, fire teams frequently face water pressure problems. “We at Williams Fire & Hazard Control had some years previously decided that it might be a good idea to develop nozzles which operate independently of the pressure. We came up with the self-educting, self-metering independent pressure nozzle which regulates its own flow,” says Kelvin.
“We call it the Ranger Series - and it goes from 250 - 1,500gpm. Ranger III goes from 1,000 - 3,000gpm; our Ambassador from 1,000 - 6,000gpm or 4,000 - 8,000. Top of the range is the Battler with a 4,000 - 10,000gpm flow.
“We also have the advantage of flowing dry chemical up to 90m+. Whenever we go to pressure fire incidents and process fires we need the dry chemical. We flow the foam and water and dry chemical simultaneously. In bund fires we can use the same monitors for cooling purposes.
Out for four years now, the Ranger III has proved very popular as a deck gun monitor on top of fire trucks. At TOTAL’s Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) the fire team operates two Angloco trucks fitted with Ranger III deck guns.
Other equipment maintained there by Carl Lamb and Mark Smith include the Battler 4,000 - 10,000 Gpm monitor, changed existing fire truck deck gun nozzles for the Ranger. LOR also shares a 2x6 Gun with next-door Conoco Philips.
Nozzles & monitors - mean the same
For the Tetney crude oil storage terminal, Conoco Philips of Humberside bought an 8,000 gallon pumping unit from WF&HC. REPSOL & CEPSA in Spain have purchased the complete Ranger series of nozzles and monitors. With the Ranger all the technology is in the nozzle and the monitors themselves ‘simply carry water’.
“We feel that the normal ground oscillating monitors can get drowned by being at a very low level and promote our own Throw Down Daspit oscillating monitor which has legs lifting it three feet off the ground. Height off the ground is crucial because of water/foam inundation,” says Kelvin.
Another of the designs often mounted on industrial vehicles is the Patriot I and II, 1,000 - 2,000gpm triple agent self-contained nozzles which project water, foam and dry chemicals (PKW made by Ansul - this is purple-coloured so you can see what it’s hitting). The Patriot can self-educt foam and at the same time discharge dry chemical within the foam stream.
“The distinction between nozzles and monitors is largely meaningless as neither can function without the other. I feel the technology should predominantly be in the nozzle. We found that friction loss can be reduced by introducing the yoked nozzle - the 2x6 is a dual-yoked nozzle and the Ambassador is more hydraulically-efficient thanks to its half yoke.”
The design of the Ambassador has apparently been influenced by work done with Texas A&M to increase its flow up to 8,000gpm; this is currently the nozzle of choice at Saudi Aramco’s Ras Tannurah complex.
A further development has come in the form of a composite lightweight material - found in the Ranger Lightning nozzle - which is reduced in weight and relatively inexpensive with flow control of 250, 500 and 750gpm.
Features developed for fixed monitors include: corrosion-resistance, zero electrostatic discharge, easy replacement. “This has become almost a throwaway item,” says Kelvin. “We have been pioneering this approach for Hydrofoam nozzles - the problem was getting the material right for the pressures.”
Equipped to win
Getting the right equipment together for fighting significant industry fires remains a problem today. Everyone has their opinion.
As Kelvin himself says: “In the aftermath of Buncefield, erroneous comments were made by fire professionals to the effect that if the right equipment had been available the fire at Buncefield would be out in 20 minutes. Much as I respect these people - I would be interested to hear how this could have been achieved?
“I am interested in the outcome of the HSE Inquiry into Buncefield. However, I’m disappointed by the low level of official participation by professionals from the industrial firefighting sector in this enquiry.
“Due to pressure from certain areas apparently one panel member from the industrial fire sector has been taken on – Kevin Westwood (BP International Fire Advisor who worked with Kelvin at the Buncefield incident) – to serve as part of the investigation.
“While the outcome will certainly reduce the possibility of a similar situation occurring again one cannot discount the REAL possibility of it occurring ...all over again.”