Oil company fined £1.65m (US$2.1 million) following refinery explosion

Published:  24 April, 2017

The blast caused internal structures to collapse and led to damage totalling more than £20 million (US$25 million).

The incident took place during the early hours of 14 November 2013 at the Stanlow Refinery in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, north-west UK, which is owned by Essar Oil.

Stanlow has a refining capacity of 12 million tonnes per year and it is the second largest in the country after Fawley Refinery. It is linked to the UK oil pipeline network, with oil delivered to the Tranmere Oil Terminal via ship and pumped to Stanlow, where it is then refined and stored for delivery.

Problems started at during the start-up of its main distillation unit, when extremely flammable hydrocarbons were allowed to enter an unignited furnace.

The heat from a nearby furnace triggered the explosion, which destroyed the furnace and started a number of fires.

The incident was reported to the EU as a major accident under schedule 7 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999.

An investigation by the UK’s national regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, found that Essar Oil failed to take all measures necessary to prevent or mitigate a major accident. There were three key failings; a safety critical valve was ordered and installed incorrectly and Essar failed to correctly validate its operation; Essar failed to adequately assess the installation of a new safety critical trip, not recognising that the system had a by-pass line which defeated the trip’s operation; although Essar’s policy was to isolate main fuel lines to the furnace, the hydrocarbons entered the furnace via a secondary fuel line which had not been isolated when shut down.

Essar Oil pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Hazards Regulations 1999 and was fined £1.6 million (US$2.1 million) with costs of £57,644 (US$73,000).

Speaking after sentence, HSE Principal Inspector Joanne Eccles said: “The industry should take notice of this case, there were no injuries but mistakes were made and could have been prevented”.

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