Severity
Incident
Leak
Yes
Ignition
Yes
Ignition Source
Either static electricity or spark from escaping particle

A pressure relief device (PRD) valve failed on a high-pressure storage tube at a hydrogen fueling station, causing the release of approximately 300 kilograms of hydrogen gas. The gas ignited at the exit of the vent pipe and burned for 2-1/2 hours until technicians were permitted by the local fire department to enter the station and stop the flow of gas. During this incident the fire department evacuated nearby businesses and an elementary school, closed adjacent streets, and ordered a high school to shelter in place.

There were no injuries and very little property damage. The corrugated roof on an adjacent canopy over a fueling dispenser was slightly singed by the escaping hydrogen flame, causing less than $300 in damage.

The station's operating systems worked as they were designed to function in an emergency. All equipment and fuel supplies were completely isolated, and all storage vessels were well within acceptable and safe pressure and temperature limits prior to and throughout the incident.

After a thorough analysis of the incident was conducted, corrective actions were taken to replace PRD valves, heighten vent stacks, modify response procedures and improve communication protocols with first responders. A considerable amount of time was taken to review the station design, evaluate emergency action plans and procedures, meet with the public, train first responders, and conduct follow-up drills with employees and first responders. The station reopened nine months after the incident and has been fully operational since that time.

Incident Date
May 04, 2012
Equipment
  • Pressure Relief Devices
  • Burst Disk
  • Hydrogen Storage Equipment
  • Hydrogen tubes
  • Hydrogen Storage Equipment
  • Vent line
Characteristics
When Incident Discovered
Lessons Learned

Three root-causes were noted during the investigation: (1) the use of incompatible materials in the manufacturing of the PRD valve, (2) improper assembly resulting in over-torquing of the inner assembly, and (3) over-hardening of the inner assembly materials by the valve manufacturer. These problems could have been avoided by adequate quality assurance/quality control procedures during the design and safety reviews.

The canopy was added to the station as an afterthought, sometime following the HazOps review. The prestart-up safety review by all parties and the local authority having jurisdiction did not recognize the setback distance of the canopy. Had an engineering management of change, follow-up HazOp or other form of risk assessment been conducted, it is likely that the vent stacks adjacent to the canopy would have been raised in order to avoid any damage in the event of a fire.

Prior to reopening the station, physical changes were made using the correct PRD valves and higher vent stacks, and new and modified procedures were instituted to improve the timely communication of station status during emergency events. Additional training of personnel focused on improving the response time and effective communication between employees, first responders, and the hydrogen equipment supplier.