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Total refinery in Antwerp rocked by fatal blast

11.19.2013  |  HP News

The blast occurred in a steam pipe at the refining part of the Belgian petrochemical complex. The explosion killed at least two people, both of whom worked for a subcontractor.


Total has shut down part of its refinery in Antwerp, Belgium, after an explosion in a steam pipe, the company said on Tuesday.

The explosion killed two people, both of whom worked for a subcontractor. The blast occurred around 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday during planned maintenance of a gasoline-producing unit.

"We confirm that there has been an explosion on a steam pipe in the refining part of the petrochemical complex," Total said in a statement, adding that “the situation is now under control”.

The company added that the refinery was evacuated and that there was no impact on the environment.

"As a consequence of the explosion, a part of the installations are stopped, and the emergency plan of the refinery has been activated," Total said.

The Antwerp refinery is one of the largest in Europe, with a capacity of 340,000 bpd. The company said earlier this year that it would invest €1 billion in the complex to increase its diesel capacity and cut costs.

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Jeff Zhao

It's the helpful and useful material to learn and to share with the similar process plants.

Jeff Zhao

want to learn and share with our colleagues to prevent the similar from reoccurring!

fatai oyesanya

we want to send you allocation of crude oil and petroleum products approved for export from nnpc

Boris Barrios

How can we help the O&G community to use the concept of LOPA in the maintenance and operations activities? Thinking in layers of protection both preventive and mitigating, help that in case that the process fails and if the explosion or the damage occurs, other and ultimate layers will/should prevent the mechanical damage to affect human lifes. What if with layers of protections. A required thinking to safe lifes.

Mike Tonner

The accident involved the boiler feed water system (operating pressure 70 bar (1015 psi), operating temperature 280 °C (536°F)) of unit 72 (continuous catalytic reforming, CCR).
Two contractors were reinjecting sealant on a leak box on the bonnet-to-body flange of a 16 inch motorized valve, when suddenly the studs of the flange failed.
The bonnet was launched into the process area, and landed at a 25 m distance.


This does not seems to be explosion since explosion requires the ignition material which can not be in steam pipeline. I think this is the case of high pressure high temperature super heated steam burst from pipeline.For this service generally P 91 (9Cr-1MO-0,3V) is used and which require extreme care during welding and post weld treatment. Many catastrophic failure have been reported in this material world over.


Ian Rodger

If steam is used to purge hydrocarbon vessels, hydrocarbon can be drawn back into the steam supply lines as they cool if attention is NOT paid to timing and isolation.

Hirak Dutta

How can there be a blast in a steam pipeline; I fail to comprehend the scenario. There must be much more than what is stated in HC processing.
I am concerned about the number of accidents that are taking place. Recently we had pipeline explosion in China resulting in a number of fatalities and loss of property. Few days back there was an accident at Lemont Refinery, Citgo.
Once again I urge that root cause of all such failures must be made available for the benefit of society at large. We must learn from all such sad incidents.

peter wigley

This is very sad news. I spent many happy times working at the adjacent Fina Antwerp Olefins plant. This,plant ,designed by ExxonChemical People from Baytown,was the most complex plant ever built,and probably remains so.It was constructed by the Italian contractor IREM.

Harry Gatley

I usually let the CSB (Chemcial Safety Board) take the lead in investigations but Ialso have been an expert witness in cases of fires and explosions - usually representing the Insurance Companies. The issues of corporate cutbacks e.g. BP leading to fatal explosions e.g. the BP Texas City explosion a few years ago must be dealt with in some manner that will alter the culture in the industry. A review of the CSB statistics is revealing. The economics have changed safety for the worse. Despite record upstream profits both in oil and mining developed country disasters have risen. The CEO's of both are being swapped out rapidly these days as safety is becoming the number one issue once again largely due to the accidents driving insurance costs up. I been in this field for 40 years now and have seen a continuing slide toward 19th century attitudes by the management. Reguation has fallen apart as well since the George W Bush era scrapping of regulations. Unfortunately instead of using record upstream profist for safety they are absorbing insurance and litigation costs with it. It is actually cheaper to pay higher premiums and in house attorneys than to improve safety.


Like other alkanes, gasoline burns in a limited range of its vapor phase and, coupled with its volatility, this makes leaks highly dangerous when sources of ignition are present. Gasoline has a lower explosion limit of 1.4% by volume and an upper explosion limit of 7.6%. If the concentration is below 1.4%, the air-gasoline mixture is too lean and does not ignite. If the concentration is above 7.6%, the mixture is too rich and also does not ignite. However, gasoline vapor rapidly mixes and spreads with air, making unconstrained gasoline quickly flammable. Many accidents involve people using gasoline to start bonfires. The gasoline readily vaporizes and mixes with surrounding air (Wikipedia).
First of all, may God bless the 2 persons who died & my total compassion with their families!
Being Engineer who worked for more than 25 years in Oil & Gas processing industry I would say it is very difficult for me to understand this article because it started by talking about blast occurred in a steam pipe & then it is question of “Explosion” during planned maintenance of gasoline unit.
My analysis is as follow:
Firstly Total statement about explosion on steam pipe needs to be clarified because the word of explosion of steam pipe is not adequate since explosion means: Fuel + air + ignition. In our case we can only have crack or pipe broken & in that case a leak of huge amount of steam under high pressure & high temperature which can directed to nearest equipment i.e. pipe, compressor, rack, etc. or person which can very harmful. But for Piping Designer it is well-known that in case of High Pressure & High temperature the specification recommends SS material (Stainless Steel) for pipe also a relieve valve is to be provided on pipe. So any defect on material selection is not to be considered. Also any failure on pipe welding cannot give explosion.
Secondly let us consider that the stream of steam was directed to gasoline unit, in this case also it is not considered as source of ignition
Lastly the planned maintenance works was at 3 p.m. means during day so good conditions of work. In my point of view it is very difficult to consider that blast of steam pipe is the source of ignition which caused the explosion. I would say that hot work during planned maintenance is the reason.
This is my analysis: I MAY BE WRONG

Amar Abbas

We should analyze that technology and protection layers have improved a lot over the years but frequency of such type of incidents (steam pipe) is also on rise. Might we be keeping safety behind production, tight schedules, cost cutting due to lower margins, outsourcing etc.

Mohiuddin Sardar

These incidents once again show that even Europe, which is considered the front runner for documentation for safety codes and laws, the basic concerns outside safety e.g. schedule, cost, runtime loss and complacency etc. which are not incorporated in the codes, many times these are the real causes for accidents. It is not a matter of only the loss of two lives. It is the repetition of such incidents which needs serious thought. We always pressurise the contractor to reduce shutdown time, to reduce cost, to make it more economically attractive. But all these at the expense of what?
Also seriously speaking, the person who usually pushes for schedule, savings and loss of production has to be made answerable for any fatal incident.
This is just a personal view without any malice against anyone.


I am surprised to see blast in steam pipe. There may some connection with pipe carrying hydrocarbons.
Authority has not clarified about occurance.

Jaime Bárcena -México-

Even though the planned maintenance work, fatal accidents around the world unfortunately shall be happening because contractor workers do not strictly know the plant facilities and overall the refinery plant safety procedures, because they work “as task force” under time pressure within an schedule and also the extreme safety measures needed are not taken in account since the contract work scope. For such planned maintenance oil refineries & process plant work must be an own trained supervision squad workers to help the contractor workers to put on line safety plant measures before start any kind of works within the facilities.
We shall be saddened around the world to know again of this kind of fatal news, Therefore crude oil refineries should issue insurances for that kind of contracts as a rule regarding economical protection for the families as an ability to cope with them for this kind of tragic loss. Then crude oil refineries and also process companies may be able to determine previously the root cause of such kind of explosions, and take steps to ensure they never occur again

olasunkanmi jimoh

There is the critical need now to excalate operational safety to the front burner in all the refineries of the world to avert further fatalities and explosion across the HPI. frequent accidents is becoming high concerns in the industrfy.
engr jimoh.

Ahmad Kusha

Almost all the disasters and fatal accidents in the industry so far as I can remember during my past 45 years experience have happened during shut down for Turn Around , during start-up after Turn Around or during a major maintenance job while part of the plant was running. Have we learned our lessen? it is worthed to have a special round table for these cases and come up with some solid answer ? We had similar case in Honeywell cracker in Geismar Louisiana several months ago.Thanks for attention

Terry Livingston

I am saddened to hear this news, and wish for the families the ability to be able to cope with this tragic loss. May Total be able to determine the root cause of this explosion, and take steps to ensure it never occurs again.

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