A hydrogen explosion and fire occurred in the benzene unit of a styrene plant in a large petrochemical complex. The unit was being restarted following a scheduled maintenance shutdown. The explosion followed the release of about 30 kilograms of 700-psig hydrogen gas from a burst flange into a compressor shed. Two men were killed and two others were injured. If it had not been a holiday, the death toll and injuries would probably have been much worse.

The operators were bringing the plant online and increasing the hydrogen circulation pressure. About 10-15 seconds before the explosion, they heard a pop and then a loud hiss of pressure being released within the compressor shed. Witnesses reported seeing a white flash and then a large fireball. The fires burned out in 2-3 minutes, view more

In the fall of 2007, the operations team began a procedure (a written procedure was being followed) to sample the liquid hydrogen (LH2) storage vessels ("tanks"), and associated transfer system. This procedure was being performed to determine the conditions within the system, and if necessary, to purge the system of any excess gaseous hydrogen (GH2) in preparation for reactivation of the system. The system had not been used since 2003.

The LH2 storage system contains two (2) spherical pressure vessels of 225,000 gallons in volume, with a maximum working pressure (MAWP) of 50 psig. Eight-inch transfer piping connects them to the usage point. Operations began with activation of the burnstack for the LH2 storage area. Pneumatic gaseous nitrogen (GN2) systems in the view more