A petroleum refinery experienced a catastrophic rupture at one bank of three heat exchangers in a catalytic reformer/naphtha hydrotreater unit because of high temperature hydrogen attack (HTHA). Hydrogen and naphtha at more than 500F were released from the ruptured heat exchanger and ignited, causing an explosion and an intense fire burned for more than three hours.

The rupture fatally injured seven employees working in the immediate vicinity of heat exchanger at the time of the incident. The workers were in the final stages of a start-up activity to put a parallel bank of three heat exchangers back in service following cleaning. Such start-up activities had resulted in frequent leaks and occasional fires in the past and should have been considered as hazardous and nonroutine. view more

A pipe rupture occurred in a steam methane reformer (SMR) process that produces hydrogen and export steam. The rupture occurred in a 24-inch diameter stainless steel (SS) pipe used to allow the process gas flow to bypass the high-temperature shift converter (HTS) during start-up. When the pipe ruptured, process gas contained in process equipment located upstream and downstream of the break vented into the SMR plant yard area. The vented process gas was a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, steam, and methane at 550 psig and 650 deg F. The escaping high-pressure gas caused an energy release and subsequent fire. The fire was confined within the SMR plant, but equipment located near the pipe failure was damaged. The SMR plant distributed control system (DCS) worked view more