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.

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

Incident Synopsis

A hydrogen compressor had been shut down for repairs and was being put back into service when an explosion occurred, resulting in property damage. The compressor was equipped with interchangeable intake and outlet valves.

Cause

The discharge valve was installed in the intake valve position, causing the cylinder head to blow off and release H2 to the atmosphere. The ignition source was not indicated.