The 50 Major Engineering Failures (1977-2007) Part-2

List of Engineering Failures Contributed by Material Failures, Corrosion, Design Flaw, and Construction Defect in Oil and Gas Production Facilities, Hydrocarbon Processing, and Oil and Gas Distribution

(Part 2 of 5) – Muhammad Abduh (

9. Piper Alpha North Sea UK – July 8, 1988 (Gas Leaking, Offshore Platform, 167 killed, US$965,000,000/1,270,000,000)

It was dominantly operation error when gas leaking from two blind flanges then gas ignited and exploded. A pump from two available pumps was tripped, and an operator inadvertently changing the backup pump with pressure relief valve that had been removed for maintenance. Severity damage of the explosion was due to large part the contribution of oil and gas pipelines connected to Piper Alpha. While the platform was in fire two other platform Tartan and Claymore continued pumping gas and oil. (Source 1,2, Video)

10. Antwerp Belgium – March 7, 1989 (Fatigue/Weld Failure, Petrochemical Plant, US$ 77,000,000/99,000,000)

Explosion is believed initiated from a hairline crack in welded seam of piping at the aldheyde column. Ethylene oxide escaped from the leak, formed polyethylene glycol (PEG) in the insulation material and accumulated for a period of time. Sequential explosion was believed by the chemical mechanism inside the insulating material and PEG. The explosion caused extensive damage to the plant and it was closed for at least 24 months with total business interuption cost up to US$ 270,000,000. (Source, Location)

11. Richmond California US – April 10, 1989 (Weld Failure, Refinery, 8 injured,US$87,170,000/112,000,000)

Failed line carrying hydrogen gas caused a high pressure hydrogen fire and resulted in flame impingement to calcium silicate insulation of the hydrocracker reactor skirt. The reactor which was 10 to 12 feet in diameter and wall thickness of seven inches failed subseqently. The reactor was in maintenance cycle for hydrogen purging. It is believed that leaking started from a failed elbow of 2-inch line at 3,000 psi. (Source, Location)

12. Baton Rauge Louisiana US – December 24, 1989 (Brittle Fracture, Refinery,US$ 68,900,000/89,000,000)

The record for low temperature (10 oF and 700 psi) at the region is believed as the major contributor to the failure of 8-inches pipeline carrying gas mixture of ethane and propane. After few minutes of vapor cloud was ignited and piperack containing 70 lines ruptured subsequently. Also with two storage tanks containing 3,600,000 gallons and 12 small tanks containing 882,000 gallons of lube oil also contribute to subsequent fire. (Source, Location)

13. Coatzacoalcos Mexico – March 11, 1991 (Pipe Leaking, Petrochemical Plant,US$ 91,300,000/112,000,000)

Gas leaking from pipe rack lead to explosion. The first explosion occured and caused additional damage to the pipe rack. Second explosion was more powerful and could be felt more than 15 miles from the facility creating damage to offsite third party facility. The explosion and fire made this vinyl chloride plant, a significant output for Mexico national demand, shut down for seven months. (Source, Location)

14. Dhaka Bangladesh – June 20, 1991 (Weld Failure, Petrochemical Plant, US$ 71,000,000)

The fertilizer plant which was constructed in 1970 suffer significant damage due to an explosion. The failure of a welded joint between carbondioxide stripper and main cylindrical body resulted in the release of high pressure gas which consisted of ammonia, carbon dioxide, and carbamate liquids. (Source)

15. North Rhine Germany – December 10, 1991(Erosion-Corrosion, Refinery, US$ 50,500,000/62,000,000)

A Pipe failed at T-junction in hydrocracker unit resulted in hydrocarbon and hydrogen release. The release of the gas ignited and explosion occured and made severe damage to the hydrocracker unit and adjacent substantial part of the plant. The hydrocracker unit was shut down for seven months. The failure of the pipe was contributed by erosion-corrosion due to plant aging. (Source)

16. Guadalajara Mexico – April 22, 1992 (Corrosion, Fuel Pipeline, 206 killed, 500 injured, 15,000 evacuated, US$ 300,000,000)

Guadalajara, Mexico second largest city, experienced series of ten massive explosion that equals to 7,0 richter scale from fuel pipeline blast. An investigation into the disaster revealed that the most possible cause for the explosion was the interference of fuel pipeline with new water piping system. The fuel pipeline was carbon steel and the sewer system was zinc-coated copper. These two lines were close enough to interfere each-other. Three days before the explosion, there were complaints from the city residents
about gasoline-like smell coming from the water pipe and sewer system. (Source 1, 2, Location)

17. Westlake Louisiana US – July 28, 1992 (Weld Failure/Corrosion, Petrochemical Plant, US$ 25,000,000/30,000,000)

A reactor vessel in urea manufacturing unit exploded. The force of the explosion could be felt in areas up to 10 miles from the plant. The fragmented shell of the column propelled up to 900 feet from their original location. The reactor was constructed 25 years earlier with 90 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter. The shell consisted of 4-inches laminations including 3/8 inches stainless steel liner. The explosion resulted from carbamate leaking at the inside vessel. Improper weld on a bracket supporting a tray inside the reactor created carbamate leak and subsequent corrosion and containment of the vessel. (Source, Location)

18. Wilmington California US – October 8, 1992 (Erosion-Corrosion, Refinery, US$ 73,300,000/96,000,000)

An explosion initiated from hydrogen processing unit. Sequential fire and explosion occured to hydrocracker unit, and hydrode sulfurization. The explosion could be felt approximately 20 miles from the plant. The explosion made the plant operator reduce production capacity to 50 percent from its normal 75,000 barrels per-day. It took 8 months to recover the production capacity. The explosion resulted from ruptered carbon-steel-elbow suffering locally thinning due to long term erosion-corrosion. (Source, Location)

19. Sodegaura Japan- October 16, 1992 (Fatigue, Refinery, 10 killed, 7 injured, US$ 160,500,000/196,000,000)

An explosion from failed heat exchanger in the hydrode-sulphurization unit caused hydrogen release and ignited fire and explosion. Technical investigation to the failure noted a complexity of the failure mechanism. The cause of the failure initiated by repetition of variation of temperature lead to decrease of diameter gasket retainer and bending deformation of rock ring. These events contributed to break out of rock ring and made spouts hydrogen gas. (Source, Location)

20. La Mede, France November 9, 1992 (Pipe Leaking, Refinery, US$ 260,000,000/318,000,000)

A pipe failed at T-junction in hydrocracker unit resulted in hydrocarbon and hydrogen release detection. Subsequent fire and explosion caused severe damage to FCC unit, gas plant, control room, and two new process unit under construction. The explosion also causing offsite damage nearby residential within the radius of 6 miles away. The business interuption loss due to this accident is estimated at US$ 180,000,000. (Source, Location)

21. Baton Rouge Louisiana US – August 2, 1993 (Creep, Refinery Plant, USD 65,200,000/78,000,000)

An elbow in the feed line of coker unit ruptured when feed switching were performed. Other pipes in unit ruptured subsequently releasing more hydrocarbons and fueling more fire to the plant. Because of the accident the coker unit was shut down for three weeks. Investigation to the failed elbow noted that carbon steel elbow was wrong material chosen with less creep resistance instead of 5Cr alloy steel.

22. Simpsonville Sacramento US- June 6, 1996 (Pitting Corrosion, Fuel Pipeline, USD 27,000,000/33,000,000)

An aboveground pipe segment failed by corrosion releasing 22,800 barrels of diesel fuel. The pipe manufactured in 1962 with 36-inches in diameter, 0.28-inches in thickness, and has specified maximum yield strength (SMYS) 52 kpsi. The pressure of pipe at the time of failure was 399 psi, the designed maximum pressure was 803 psi. (Source)

23. Rio Piedras San Juan Puerto Rico – November 21, 1996 (Wrong Material in HCA, Gas Distribution Pipeline, 33 killed, 69 injured, USD 5,000,000)

Polyethylene pipe transporting propane gas to consumer was failed leading to fire and explosion. The explosion occurred in five stories full occupied business center at shopping district Rio Piedras San Juan Puerto Rico. The leaking of plastic pipe was believed due to construction excavation damage around the pipeline. More than 20 pipes and conduits surrounding the plastic pipe which were being constructed, being used and had been abandoned. Construction excavation damage to plastic pipe was rather unavoidable and there should be pipeline design with higher integrity within high consequence area (HCA) like Rio Piedras shopping district. (Source)

See also : Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

4 Responses to The 50 Major Engineering Failures (1977-2007) Part-2

  1. […] also: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The 50 Major Engineering […]

  2. Raja Setlur says:

    Excellent compilation, thank you very much!
    There was difficulty accessing part 4

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