Overview: A hydrogen leak and explosion occurred due to the installation of an incorrectly sized gasket at the suction line of a hydrogen compressor in a refinery hydrodesulfurization plant. The incorrectly sized gasket was mounted during the startup of the plant in 2001 and had never being inspected nor replaced.

Incident synopsis: The operating conditions were stable when the operator received an alarm indicating pressure loss in the circuit. He immediately instructed his field personnel to inspect the area. The hydrogen leak was confined inside the compressor room because the walls and roof were not provided with ventilation devices. An explosion occurred, causing two fatalities and the destruction of the compressor room and some of the surrounding area.

Incident Synopsis
While attempting to replace a rupture disk in a liquid H2 vessel, H2 gas was released and ignited. In fighting the fire, liquid N2 was sprayed onto a second liquid H2 vessel located nearby. This resulted in cracking of the outer mild steel vacuum jacket. The loss of the vacuum caused a rapid increase in pressure and rupture of the burst disk of the second vessel. H2 boiled off and was burned in the fire.

Cause
The rupture disk was being replaced with a load of liquid H2 in the vessel and no separating inerting gas. The H2-air mixture was probably ignited by static discharges. Rupture of the second vessel burst disk was caused by the low-temperature exposure of the mild steel vacuum jacket.