Article Archive
Rust Never Sleeps
Pipe failure cited in refinery fire.
Volume 24, No. 6

Fire officials blame a May 2009 fire that destroyed part of Sunoco's Marcus Hook refinery on a rusty 10-inch pipe that ruptured and caused a catastrophic natural gas leak.

Separate investigations by the company and the Delaware State Fire Marshal determined that pipe failure caused the fire in the refinery's ethylene unit.

?"The Delaware State Fire Marshal's investigation indicates - and our own internal investigation agrees - that a pipe failure resulted in the release of combustible ethylene unit feed gas, which caught fire," said Thomas Golembeski, Sunoco's spokesperson.

The pipe failure was caused by external corrosion on the bottom of the pipe, Golembeski said. The evidence shows that localized corrosion stemmed from moisture trapped between the pipe and a loose steel sleeve on which the pipe rested.

The corrosion, which occurred over many years, was limited to the space between the sleeve and the pipe. The rest of the pipe showed no indication of corrosion.

"Extensive metallurgical testing and analysis of the damaged section of pipe confirms corrosion as the cause of the failure," Golembeski said.

As a result of these findings, Sunoco has voluntarily begun taking the following corrective actions:

  • Sharing the lessons learned across all of Sunoco's refineries and chemical plants.
  • Launched a short-term effort at all facilities to examine piping systems and identify locations of possible concern so they can be addressed immediately.
  • Begun a process to revise standard inspection practices to make them even more thorough and rigorous. New inspection practices will go beyond the industry standard that Sunoco currently follows.
  • Implementing a special emphasis program for high-risk systems to be sure similar structures with similar conditions do not exist at any Sunoco facilities.
  • Initiated a third party review of the revised mechanical integrity and inspection practices to identify other areas for improvement.

"Sunoco has long been an active member of community organizations in Claymont, Marcus Hook and Linwood," Golembeski said. "We work hard to maintain positive and productive relationships with our neighbors, local elected officials, and the community of emergency first responders."

Sunoco participated in a local emergency planning committee devoted to improving communication and cooperation among agencies responding to events straddling the Pennsylvania-Delaware border. Together with other area companies, Sunoco sponsored a new emergency packet for New Castle County residents that contains evacuation routes and procedures.

In October 1946, seven Marcus Hook refinery workers died and nearby 200 were injured when fire swept through a recently opened aviation gasoline cracking plant. Nine explosion rocked the facility as firefighters labored to control the blaze.

Sunoco announced in July 2009 that it will permanently close the ethylene complex, citing low market demand for ethylene, ethylene oxide and cyclohexane.

 
 

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