U.S. finds safety management gaps led to 2016 gas plant blast

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Gaps in safety management led to a 2016 explosion that idled an Enterprise Products natural gas processing plant in Pascagoula, Mississippi, for six months, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said in a report on Wednesday.

The June 27, 2016 blast occurred after the plant’s brazed aluminum heat exchanger failed due to thermal fatigue, the board said in the report. Thermal fatigue is repeated stress on metal from heating and cooling over time.

No injuries were reported from the blast.

Enterprise took over complete ownership of the Pascagoula plant in March 2016. Prior to that change, Enterprise was a minority partner and BP Plc had majority ownership and ran the plant.

“Several gaps in the safety management of the brazed aluminum heat exchangers at the Pascagoula Gas Plant reveal deficiencies in hazard assessment, management of change and mechanical integrity programs at the site,” the board said in its report.

A BP spokesman said the company had no comment, as the plant was owned by Enterprise.

Spokesman Rick Rainey said in an email that Enterprise would consider the CSB’s “findings and recommendations, as well as findings resulting from our own investigations” to improve the company’s safety system.

“By partnering with universities, trade organizations and manufacturers, Enterprise is proactively working to conduct independent research concerning the safe operation of brazed aluminum heat exchangers (BAHXs),” Rainey said. “We believe these partnerships will lead to the improved design, operation and safety of BAHXs.”

The CSB also said the methods chosen to assess possible damage from thermal fatigue to the heat exchanger did not recognize accumulating damage over years of operation.

The board said standards for assessing and repairing damage for similar heat exchangers varied from site to site and company to company, and the industry could benefit from increased communication of safety practices.

The board recommended the American Petroleum Institute and the GPA Midstream Association produce informational and technical bulletins about safety practices and lessons to be learned from the blast.

The CSB has no regulatory or enforcement authority and is charged with determining root causes of fires and explosions at U.S. chemical plants and making recommendations for improvement to the industry.

Heat exchangers transfer heat to and from chemicals as needed while they are being processed in refineries and chemical plants.

Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Susan Thomas, Paul Simao and David Gregorio