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Venezuela discloses evidence of alleged sabotage at Amuay refinery blast

09.10.2013  | 

The Venezuelan Oil Ministry disclosed that nuts and bolts on a key pump in a pipeline that transported olefins to the neighboring Cardon refinery were intentionally loosened. The analysts allege that the frequent mishaps are the result of insufficient maintenance at plants run by the energy monopoly.



CARACAS -- Venezuela Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said that a key gas line at the country's large Amuay refinery was tampered with, leading to the massive blast last year at the facility which killed 47 people.

It's the first piece of evidence offered by Venezuelan officials since they declared last month that the 2012 accident at Amuay, the deadliest ever experienced by the local oil industry, was the result of sabotage aimed at destabilizing the country's leftist government.

In a presentation to oil industry workers, Mr. Ramirez said the year long investigation concluded that nuts and bolts on a key pump in a pipeline that transported olefins to the neighboring Cardon refinery "were intentionally loosened."

Mr. Ramirez said the dislodging of the connection line helped create a "massive gas leak" around much of the refinery's storage areas, which was then set ablaze by the ignition of a vehicle used by National Guard members patrolling the area.

Of the 47 people killed in the explosion, 24 were from the National Guard, while their family members living on the site of the refinery accounted for another 11.

The findings are part of a 140 page report produced from the investigation conducted by state energy monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA, as well as the country's Attorney General's office and the state intelligence agency Sebin.

No independent parties were involved in the investigation.

Mr. Ramirez and other government heads dismissed as "irresponsible" an independent report released last month by the Energy Orientation Center, a group of Venezuelan oil industry professionals and former PdVSA workers, which said the Amuay disaster followed in trend of increasing accidents at PdVSA facilities. The analysts allege that the frequent mishaps are the result of insufficient maintenance at plants run by the energy monopoly, charges that state officials strongly deny.

Government figures say the alleged act of sabotage was carried out by enemies of the state but haven't specified who was responsible.

Officials say the blast left about $1.1 billion in damages at the plant. The losses reach $2 billion when factoring in lost production and other opportunity costs due to the accident, Mr. Ramirez said on August 25, 2013.

Jesus Luongo, a PdVSA board member who oversees the Paraguana Refining Complex, which includes Amuay, said the company will begin the process of making claims with its insurers, now that the investigation report has been released.

He said, however, that he didn't know how much insurers would pay for the damages.

Dow Jones Newswires

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Jeffry House

The "sabotage" explanation is strictly for fools and Stalinists.

A gas leak occurred. They say the valve was left open purposely, yet cannot say who did it, or when. How do they know it wasn't done accidentally? They provide no answer to this question.

Robert in Houston

However difficult, leave aside all the political posturing: something is inconsistent with the "sabotage" explanation. The saboteurs are patient enough to wait for the right [rare] wind conditions, smart enough to know the right pump to hit (inside knowledge), brazen enough to do it right across from the Guarda caserne, yet too stupid to take the right wrenches and have to use a pipe-wrench, leaving marred nuts???

Of course the photos have not been released, but what other "evidence" could there be? Nuts are often reused and will show wrench marks from proper loosening. Frankly, I wouldn't be too surprised if some PdVSA "hires" used pipe-wrenches on nuts

A more likely cause is vibration, which gets much worse with foundation deterioration and/or missing tie-downs. Easy to miss if operators are untrained or skipping rounds.

Paul Tudor

This is a new lie from PDVSA and the Venezuelan government, where were the surveillance cameras, why there was not detected by the operations supervisor, why the pressure drop was not detected by the operations control room, to loose those nuts and bolts it is a cumbersome procedure, if it is don manually you need a hammer and the appropriate tool, if you use a torque wrench the same you make noise.
All this report is to avoid the insurance company investigation which I am sure will find negligence in the management of this accident by lack of maintenance.

Ruben Perez

For now is not a public document the one generated by the internal PDVSA investigation committee. It is available to everyone a presentation of the final report than summarizes the results obtained after one year of study and analysis by a group of professionals who have faithfully followed the rules on accidents evaluation in PDVSA. Next link you will find the presentation http://tinyurl.com/owzwbgj

The final report, according to the President of PDVSA has at least 200 pages including attachments. When this document is made public every one can evaluate in depth its content.

On many occasions it was noted that there were various teams working on the finding of the root causes of the event , including teams from the insurance company. Also the President of PDVSA shows the participation in the investigation of the manufacturers of the equipment involved .

From the comments made on this page , I see several errors , but the most significant is that indicated they had 2 people working on the pump at the time of the leak. The reality is that once detected the problem ( through low flow alarm in the control system ) 11:57 pm, two people were sents to the area to verify what was happening.

It is not a secret in Venezuela that security zones in refineries and processing plants have been consistently violated, major freeways are placed a few meters from the process equipment , entire cities have grown to meters of these . The third-party intrusions are common in operational areas , more than you think. This is where PDVSA must take decisive action .

Now some of the operational questions that everyone should ask:

• In a large refinery , petrochemicals complex process area , How many times a day operator visit the product storage area?

• How many cases of decoupling of the Pump - Foundation bolt in operation do you know? Bolts # 7 Slide 37 , 38 and 39 in the presentation.

• Many argue lack of maintenance. If there is lack of maintenance why the safety valves in the storage spheres functioned properly and prevented these explode? Slide 17 in the presentation.

Now in a highly politicized country like Venezuela , amid an electoral race ( Presidential Election October 7, 2012 ) it was possible to prevent the victory of Hugo Chavez . Remember the bombing of the Atocha Train Station in Spain at Vespers of the 2004 presidential election http://tinyurl.com/2v4yqq

Also it must be remembered that the only energy company sabotaged by a lot of workers for purely political reasons ( Demanding the resignation of Hugo Chavez) was PDVSA in December 2002 .

That said, and since in Venezuela some people insist on mixing the technical to the political , and ignore the importance of clarifying a fact is serious and painful as the death of several people even in their sleep , following an accident that still is under criminal investigation , I believe that all the hypotheses stated in the presentation that has greater feasibility is the hypot

WE Brookis

Unlike the previous commenter I have no personal connection with the situation. The only argument for sabotage is the work of the worker. I do not find it inconceiavable that the fastiners might vibrate enough to loosen on the high pressure pump. To the contrary in my 40 years of engineering I have seen it hundreds of times. His mention that two men are working on the pump at the time of the explosion tells us that the leak had been know about for at least some time normally meaning block and flare from both ends. For sure the knowledge of the leak should have stoped all vehicle traffic even if the leak was thought to be small. The very indication that the gas detectors failed to pick up the gas leak indicates that the technology was either outdated, or nucance alarms were very common and were not seen as a pattern as the front moved across the ground saturating the detectors to above the 100% of LEL. Companies big and small need third and even foruth party validations to make clear the findings for such desasterious situations.


How easy it appears to enter the Amuay Refinery premises in order to commit a sabotage, this said having in mind the strong surveillance and security personnel maintained by the Venezuelan Government at all their production installations. I guess the alleged intruders were a group of 007 Agents with the mechanical skills required to work on loosening nuts & bolts in pumps and piping working at their typical refinery severity. I think that is just a big bluff for the layman, which we Process Engineers find totally absurd and unacceptable whatsoever. Besides, are all the failures the results of acts of sabotage; come on Mr Ramirez this looks like a Chinese Urban legend repeated again and again. By the way, no offense to the Chinese People....

Carlos Diaz

The report produced by the oil minister and PDVSA's president is infantile at best. The following facts remain:

1) PDVSA did not make the claim with his insurers at the time the explosion occurred fearing an independent (reliable) investigation. Only now, after all evidence has been removed, they think about making the claim (hence the facility's manager questioning whether they will collect at all).

2) A previous insurance audit report, months before the explosion, indicated that gas leak detection sensors were inoperative. Other major maintenance shortcomings, relevant to the explosion event, were also pointed out in that report. They continued to be inoperative at the time of the explosion. This is why a major leak, spilling over quite a few hours, went undetected.

3) PDVSA did not renew its insurance policies with their traditional brokers and insurance companies. Instead, for the past few months, they have been fast-tracking a switch to lesser known firms (one of them Russian) who may be willing to accept the policies. At this time PDVSA's insurance status remains unclear.

4) Upon the publication of the report "proving" sabotage, PDVSA's president and oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, personally supervised a company-wide survey made mandatory to all refining personnel. The answers to the survey questions, confirming the belief that they thought it was sabotage, were pre-defined; employees only had to sign their names to the survey.
It was made clear to all that those who refused to sign the survey would be fired on the spot.
(Remember that this is the same guy who in 2002 fired more than 20,000 -twenty thousand- skilled personnel from PDVSA after they had gone on strike against the imposition of specific political ideologies within the company).

5) At this time, the authorship of this report "proving sabotage" remains unknown. Neither reliable risk evaluation and analysis organizations nor any independent technical expertise were called to participate. This was strictly an internal PDVSA's work carried out under close supervision and censorship by company authorities.

In summary, the report was produced ONLY for domestic political use in Venezuela. It does little to improve PDVSA's international image and credibility.

Yiltzon Moreno

What once was one of the most efficient NOC's, has now become one of the companies with the worst record in safety and profitability.
If the explosion was due to sabotage, as the Energy minister claims, He should resign as he felt to establish proper measures to secure those highly critical faciities.
The fact that anybody can just go and loose screws in a refinery should switch on red lights and multiply by 100% the insurance fees of those facilities.
This speech only aims to fuel the conspiracy theory that any wrong doing in Venezuela is a direct result of enemies that seek to threaten the regime installed there since 1999.

Marco FAirest

this report is laughable to say the least, sabotage has traditionally the scapegoat of those people that usurped the government. the real issue is the lack of maintenance on all of the infrastructure that belongs in Venezuela, the problem is endemic as it has manifested itself every where the government gets involved. either way, the real cause is imcompetence:
1-toying with the sabotage theory, indicates the government is incapable of controlling a safe zone in the refinery complex, even though the complex has been militarized, and all personel that did not simpathize with the regime was fired.
2-lack of maintenance theory, it is evident that the regime can't admit that maintenace budgets are being stolen from the coffers, the implications will be severe as insurance will most likelly refuse to pay, the only option avaliable to those corrupts is blame sabotage, iether way another nail in the coffin.......

thomas allsop

I live fairly close to the refinery and knew from past experience that the blast was due to a gas explosion. But too many coincidents at the time led me to believe that the cause was sabotage. Firstly, our normal weather is strong easterly winds but whenever a tropical depression passes to the north of Paragauana we have 2 or 3 windless days (this was the condition on the days before during and after the explosion). So no wind to dilute the gas concentration. Secondly it is inconceiavable that the nuts and bolts on a high pressure gas pump can work loose. Thirdly gas detectors didn't pick-up the gas leak (by definition the gas spreading over an area of several windless acres will hug the ground). Fourthly, a maintenance engineer repairing the pum stated that the nuts and bolts had been tampered with. He survivied, his supervisor standing next to him him died. For these reasons the gas leakage continued for some 8 hours before the explosion. Just how can you dilute the gas if there is no wind? Yes, sabotage it must have been. This was my conclusion on the day of the explosion

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