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 chemical plant experienced a valve failure during a planned shutdown for maintenance that caused hydrogen to leak from a valve and catch fire. Four chemical reactor chambers in series were being emptied of liquid using hydrogen gas as part of a maintenance procedure. Two heater valves were opened allowing 3000 psi hydrogen to flow in reverse direction to purge the reactor system for approximately 25 minutes. At completion of the purging process, a "light" thud was heard as the reactor empty-out valves are being closed. Smoky vapor was observed coming out of one of the reactor empty-out valves and the valve closing was stopped by the operator. The operator summoned a second operator for help at which time a second "loud" thud was heard with a much larger light and view more

A pressure relief device (PRD) valve failed on a high-pressure storage tube at a hydrogen fueling station, causing the release of approximately 300 kilograms of hydrogen gas. The gas ignited at the exit of the vent pipe and burned for 2-1/2 hours until technicians were permitted by the local fire department to enter the station and stop the flow of gas. During this incident the fire department evacuated nearby businesses and an elementary school, closed adjacent streets, and ordered a high school to shelter in place.

There were no injuries and very little property damage. The corrugated roof on an adjacent canopy over a fueling dispenser was slightly singed by the escaping hydrogen flame, causing less than $300 in damage.

The station's operating systems worked as view more

A hydrogen leak at the flange of a 6-inch synthesis turbocharger valve in an ammonia production plant ignited and exploded. Hydrogen detectors and the fire alarm alerted the control room, which immediately shut down the plant, and the fire was then extinguished rapidly. There were no injuries caused by the accident, since the operator heard a wheezing sound and was able to run away just before the explosion occurred. The leaking gas was composed of 70% hydrogen at a flow rate of 15,000 cubic meters per hour. Property damages in the turbocharger included electrical cabling, melted siding, and heavily damaged pipes. The ammonia plant was shut down for more than a month.Five days before the incident, a problem with the CO2 absorber column led operators to open the vent downstream of the view more

During restart of an ammonia production plant, syngas (50% hydrogen mixed with methane, ammonia, and nitrogen) leaking from a flange directly downstream of the synthesis reactor ignited. The plant had been shut down for about 90 minutes due to a technical problem. Alerted by the plant fire alarm, the operator activated the emergency shutdown, which isolated and depressurized the synthesis loop. Steam was sprayed onto the leak site to dampen the fire, which was brought under control 55 minutes later. Property damages included pipe insulation, the reactor's protective shutters, concrete fireproofing of the reactor structure, and instrumentation cables within 3 meters of the leak site. The flames did not affect the synthesis reactor itself, which was protected by a deflector. The view more

Operators in a powdered metals production facility heard a hissing noise near one of the plant furnaces and determined that it was a gas leak in the trench below the furnaces. The trench carried hydrogen, nitrogen, and cooling water runoff pipes as well as a vent pipe for the furnaces.

Maintenance personnel presumed that the leak was nonflammable nitrogen because there had recently been a nitrogen piping leak elsewhere in the plant. Using the plant's overhead crane, they removed some of the heavy trench covers. They determined that the leak was in an area that the crane could not reach, so they brought in a forklift with a chain to remove the trench covers in that area.

Eyewitnesses stated that as the first trench cover was wrenched from its position by the forklift view more

The incident occurred in the catalytic hydrotreatment plant of an oil refinery. The plant, which began operations in September 1997, has a capacity of 1650 tons/day of light fuel oil and 1450 tons/day of heavy fuel oil. The plant was designed to desulfurize the light and heavy fuel oil fractions produced in the refinery by treating them with high-pressure hydrogen over a catalyst to remove sulfur (producing hydrogen sulfide as a byproduct). The plant has two heating/reaction/fractionating sections to treat the two fuel oil fractions, but a single gas purification and compression section for the recycled hydrogen gas.

The heavy fuel oil reactor feedstock from the vacuum distillation plant is sent to the heavy fuel oil treatment section through three pipelines equipped with flow view more

Spent platinum catalyst is recovered from corrugated stainless steel by chemical stripping and recovery. The process is completed by placing the material in lined tanks filled with hydrochloric acid (HCl). Approximately 500 pounds of corrugated stainless steel with platinum coating was inserted into a HCl leaching bath. Prior to starting the process, the supervisor tested the material for reactivity for a period of one hour, and the material showed very little reactivity. Operators began setting up three 500-gallon tanks, each containing the corrugated material. The material was covered with water and 4-5 inches of HCl was then added to the tank. When all three tanks were set up and there was only minimal reactivity observed (occasional bubbles), the operators left the area.

An view more

A fire occurred in a continuous-feed autoclave system (fixed-catalyst-bed tubular reactor) when the rupture disc released, discharging hot oil, oil distillates, and hydrogen gas out a vent pipe into the autoclave cell. The flammable mixture was discharged directly into the cell because there was no system in place to catch or remotely exhaust the autoclave contents. The oil and gas ignited in a fireball that, in turn, ignited nearby combustibles (cardboard and paper), causing a sustained fire. The hydrogen gas and autoclave system were shutoff immediately. However, a lecture bottle containing hydrogen sulfide was heated by the surrounding fire and ultimately ruptured with enough force to cause facility structural damage. (Lecture bottles do not have a pressure-relief device.) The view more

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


  • = No Ignition
  • = Explosion
  • = Fire
Hydrogen Incident Summaries by Equipment and Primary Cause/Issue
Equipment / Cause Equipment Design or Selection Component Failure Operational Error Installation or Maintenance Inadequate Gas or Flame Detection Emergency Shutdown Response Other or Unknown
Hydrogen Gas Metal Cylinder or Regulator   3/31/2012
4/26/2010 12/31/1969     3/17/1999
Piping/Valves 4/4/2002
2/7/2009 1/24/1999


Tubing/Fittings/Hose   9/23/1999
1/1/1982 9/30/2004
Compressor   10/5/2009
    10/5/2009 8/21/2008  
Liquid Hydrogen Tank or Delivery Truck 4/27/1989 12/19/2004
8/6/2004 12/31/1969   1/1/1974 12/17/2004
Pressure Relief Device 7/25/2013
Instrument 1/15/2019 3/17/1999
Hydrogen Generation Equipment 7/27/1999     10/23/2001      
Vehicle or Lift Truck   7/21/2011         2/8/2011
Fuel Dispenser   8/2/2004
Fuel Cell Stack            


Hydrogen Cooled Generator       12/31/1969
Other (floor drain, lab
anaerobic chamber,
heated glassware,
test chamber,
gaseous hydrogen
composite cylinder,
delivery truck)
  • = No Ignition
  • = Explosion
  • = Fire