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Williams Geismar Olefins Plant


Reboiler Rupture and Fire
Geismar, Louisiana

-Dasari Manoj
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Introduction
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• On June 13, 2013 catastrophic equipment


rupture, explosion, and fire occurred at the
Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, Louisiana,
which killed two Williams employees.
• The Reboiler shell catastrophically ruptured,
when heat source was introduced into the
reboiler, causing a boiling liquid expanding vapor
explosion (BLEVE) and fire.
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Process
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• Ethane and propane enter “cracking furnaces” where they


are converted to ethylene and propylene, as well as
several byproducts including butadiene, aromatic
compounds, methane, and hydrogen .
• The quench water that directly contacts the heated
furnace effluent gases is part of a closed-loop water
circulation system.
• The heated quench water then serves as a heat source in
various heat exchangers within the process, heating
process streams while also reducing the temperature of
the quench water
Process
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• The quench water settler removes most of the tar


material ; however, some oily material remains in the
quench water. Over time, some of this material adheres
to and builds up on the inside of process equipment such
as heat exchanger tubes .
• The original propylene fractionator design had both
reboilers continuously operating .
• Williams installed valves on the shell-side and tube-side
reboiler piping to allow for continuous operation with
only one reboiler operating at a time. The other reboiler
would be offline but ready for operation
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Mistake
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• The Valves Isolated the reboiler from the PSV on


the fractionator.
• This point was missed during the various PHA’s
and HAZOPs done by the company.
Incident
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• On June 13, 2013, during a daily morning meeting


with operations and maintenance personnel, the
plant manager noted that the quench water flow
reduced due to fouling.
• Decided for switching of the reboiler.
• At 08:33 AM, the operator opened the Quench
water to the reboiler, Approx 3 minutes later the
exchanger has catastrophically exploded.
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What lead to the incident
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• Williams performed maintenance on Reboiler B in


February 2012.
• period of 16 months—flammable liquid propane
accumulated on the shell side of the standby Reboiler B .
• The propane could have entered the standby reboiler via
a mistakenly opened valve, leaking block valve(s), or
another unknown mechanism.
• Williams had not installed instrumentation to detect
process fluid within the reboiler .
• The shell-side process valves were closed, which isolated
the shell of Reboiler B from its protective pressure relief
valve on the top of the propylene fractionator .
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• When the Reboiler B hot quench water valves were


opened, the liquid propane within the standby Reboiler B
shell began to heat up.
• This caused the liquid propane to increase in volume due
to liquid thermal expansion, filling any remaining
occupiable vapor space within the shell.
• When the liquid could no longer expand due to
confinement within the blocked-in Reboiler B shell, the
pressure rapidly increased until the internal pressure
exceeded the shell’s mechanical pressure limit and the
reboiler shell failed
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BLEVE
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• The high pressure generated from liquid thermal


expansion of the propane cracked the reboiler shell.
• The shell contents began to vaporize near the crack
opening, and a jet release of liquid and vapor accelerated
out of the crack.
• The pressure loading on the open edges of the crack
caused the crack to continue to grow along the vessel
length.
• As the crack opening increased in size, the liquid and
vapor jet release also rapidly grew. The continued internal
pressure caused the reboiler shell to fail suddenly and
catastrophically, splitting wide open
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• With the shell confinement suddenly gone, the bulk of the


shell contents abruptly lowered to atmospheric pressure.
At atmospheric pressure, the liquid propane was above its
boiling point (i.e. in a superheated state).
• The atmospheric boiling point of the propane mixture
was approximately -43 °F, and the liquid propane mixture
was at a much higher temperature.
• The propane explosively released into the surrounding
area: propane vapor violently expanded and the
superheated liquid rapidly vaporized.
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Analysis
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• Williams did not perform adequate Pre-Startup Safety


Reviews (PSSRs) for significant process changes involving
the propylene fractionator reboilers—the installation of
block valves.
• Williams did not adequately implement action items
developed during Process Hazard Analyses (PHAs) or
recommendations from a contracted pressure relief
system engineering analysis.
• Consequently, Williams did not effectively apply
overpressure protection by either a pressure relief valve
or by administrative controls to the standby Reboiler B.
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• Williams did not perform a hazard analysis and develop a


procedure prior to the operations activities conducted on
the day of the incident.
Post Incident Change
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