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

Overview
During start-up operation of a high-temperature, high-pressure plant using hydrogen, hydrogen gas leaked from the flange of a heat exchanger and a fire occurred. The leakage occurred for two reasons:

Insufficient tightening torque control was carried out during hot-bolting and an unbalanced force was generated across the bolts.
A temperature rise was induced across the heat exchanger as a result of a revamping activity, during a turnaround shutdown.

Background
Hot-bolting: In equipment and piping that operate at high temperatures, as the temperatures rise, the tightening force decreases, thus re-tightening of bolts is necessary. This work is called hot-bolting. The design conditions of the evaporator where the fire occurred were 2.4 MPaG, view more