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The Oil Refinery Explosion in Superior, WI
In April 2018, an oil refinery explosion took place in Superior, Wisconsin. The sonic boom was felt for miles, and more than 20 workers were hurt in the explosion. One worker said that the refinery was in the middle of shutting down for repairs when the accident occurred, causing a subsequent refinery fire that had to be put out twice after reigniting. The Chemical Safety Board, an organization that makes safety recommendations after oil refinery accidents, sent out a four-person team to investigate the cause of the explosion.
Examining the Texas City Refinery Accident
A recent example of an oil refinery accident is the Texas City explosion of 2005. This refinery was old, and many speculated it was not adequately maintained. An investigation just before the explosion found that many pipes had worn too thin, concrete had chipped, and fumes had been leaking. The accident happened just before summer's high oil demand, so machines were likely running at high capacity at the time of the incident. The blast killed 15 workers and injured another 170. This one tragic accident serves to prove the importance of maintaining oil refineries so that they are safe. Such large and complicated plants require extensive check-ups to ensure that everything is running smoothly and safely.
Defective Equipment in Oil Refineries
One of the most common causes of plant and refinery accidents is defective equipment. Oil refineries are unique and need special maintenance to avoid accidents. Oil refineries function to process crude oil to turn it into different forms. This process is known as fractional distillation. The refining process involves heating the oil to extremely high temperatures, as high as 400 degrees Celsius, to distill and separate the different forms of oil. This process involves numerous pieces of vital machinery that, if poorly maintained, can cause serious accidents.
- Storage tanks
- Treatment tanks
Many factories today have access to safer technology, but continue to depend on equipment that is well past its replacement due date. Each part depends on the whole to function. When parts are defective, it creates catastrophic consequences. One report from the EU revealed that of 137 severe refinery incidents in the last 30 years, 1 in 5 was caused by unmaintained equipment that corroded and failed. Despite increased refinery knowledge and safety technology, defective equipment remains the leading factor in major plant accidents across the nation.
Malfunctioning Equipment in Oil Refineries
When equipment malfunctions, it can cause severe injuries. At oil refineries, an equipment malfunction is a cause for serious concern, which is precisely why employees should be properly trained for how to handle these types of malfunctions so that they do not escalate.
- Desalter units
- Alkylation unit
- Coking units
Accidents in the past examined by the OHSA have shown the cause of the accident was malfunctioning equipment. It may be difficult to find the cause of an accident if the oil refinery sustained significant damage; however, a thorough investigation usually produces a reason.
A recent example of a plant explosion took place at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Connecticut. After OHSA investigated, 400+ safety violations were found. This goes to show that accidents are often avoidable and can be prevented by staying on the watch for malfunctioning equipment.
Oil Refinery Accidents Caused by Unseen Corrosion
Corrosion is the gradual process by which metal is worn down. This wear and tear is naturally caused by the metal reacting to the surrounding environment. One example is the oxidation that occurs when metal is exposed to oxygen—often resulting in rust and a general weakening of the material. This oxidation can often be easy to spot, which is why machine inspectors are always on the lookout for any discoloration of metal pieces on any machinery. This can be a surefire sign of corrosion.
Corrosion can also occur when a metal is subject to high temperatures. This frequently occurs at an oil refinery plant because, to refine crude oil, the product must be heated to extreme temperatures in a process that is known as fractional distillation. When the metal is exposed to hot gas that contains contaminants, high-temperature corrosion can occur. One of the most common forms of this is sulfidation corrosion, which is a direct result of the sulfur compound that exists in crude oil. This starts when the temperature peaks at 500°F.
- High-Temperature Hydrogen Attack (HTHA)
- Stress Corrosion Cracking
Preventing Corrosion at Oil Refineries
Other than inspections, other steps can be taken to help prevent corrosion.
There are more advanced reactive coatings that can electrically deter corrosion. All of these are considered "anti-corrosion" treatments, so any unprotected metal at an oil refinery is in danger of corroding, which is why inspectors should also always be on the lookout for any chipping paint at the plant. Preventing corrosion in oil refineries is a huge priority. Unfortunately, even though machine inspectors are always checking for it, that does not mean it is always caught. Corrosion may go unnoticed because it exists in crevices and other hard-to-see spaces or just because the procedure for checking it was lax. If that is the case, unseen corrosion can become a silent killer and can lead to serious accidents.
The Responsibility of Oil Refinery Owners & Managers
Oil and gas companies are responsible for fostering a safe work environment. Even if the employer is not present at the time of the accident, they may be found at fault. People are employed at oil refineries for the sole purpose of investigating equipment to ensure that it is in good working order. When they fail to carry out their job duties effectively, workers’ lives are put in danger, and resulting injuries can be attributed to their negligence.
If you were involved in an oil refinery accident that was caused by defective equipment, don't assume it was unavoidable. Statistically speaking, your accident was not only preventable—someone may have known that it was likely to happen. Your employer, the equipment manufacturer, or the plant owner may very well be found responsible for the equipment malfunction, allowing you to file a claim.
Trust Our Oil Refinery Accident Lawyers to Obtain Justice in Your Case
If you were injured in an oil refinery accident, then you may be entitled to compensation. At Arnold & Itkin, we have dealt with similar cases and obtained substantial recoveries for our clients. We fight hard for the rights of victims from Houston, Texas to cities all over Louisiana (as well as across the United States). If you were the victim of an oil refinery accident anywhere nationwide, then we are ready to fight for you too. Our oil refinery accident attorneys believe there is no excuse for plant and refinery accidents of any sort.
- Negligence and carelessness
- Faulty or defective products
- Lack of training or supervision
- Dangerous work environments
- Lack of maintenance or care
- Lax safety standards
Even if you are unsure of whether or not you have a case, it is worth it to talk to an oil refinery accident lawyer who can walk you through your options. You do not have to worry about being charged a significant fee, because not only are our consultations free, you do not have to pay a penny unless we win your case. Our contingency fee representation is just one thing that sets us apart from all the rest.
You deserve the best representation. Contact our firm today at (888) 493-1629 to learn how Arnold & Itkin can help you.