Sunday, 6 January 2013

It could never happen here, right? Mexican gas plant explosion kills about 30 workers

I wouldn't be too sure, no wonder there are concerns here in Gladstone, the site of several huge LNG plants, and in the gas fields and along the pipeline routes, but I only heard about this today. Maybe I wasn't following the news but I didn't see it reported here, where huge gas tankers will soon be negotiating a narrow channel close to the main city CBD:

By Bill Van Auken 
20 September 2012
An explosion that ripped through a PetrĂ³leos Mexicanos (PEMEX) gas pipeline distribution facility in northeastern Mexico near the US border Tuesday has left some 30 workers dead and dozens more injured.
The official death toll rose to 29 on Wednesday afternoon. PEMEX, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, said on its twitter account that seven more workers are missing. A company official put the number at five, while warning that it could rise. At least 46 workers were injured.
The bulk of those who lost their lives in the explosion and fire were employees of a private contractor brought in to do maintenance work at the facility. Twenty-five of the contract workers are known to have died along with four employees of PEMEX itself. Part of the confusion over how many remain missing is the result of PEMEX trying to coordinate information with the contractor.
The explosion, which occurred at 10:45 am on Tuesday, ignited a huge fire sending towering flames and a column of smoke high over the facility, a gas distribution center located approximately 12 miles down the highway linking Reynosa to the city of Monterrey to the southwest. Reynosa is just across the US border from McAllen, Texas.
President Felipe Calderon said on Wednesday that the quick response of Mexican firefighters and army personnel helped avoid a “real catastrophe” that would have ensued had the blaze spread to a nearby gas processing plant.
Security personnel evacuated people from homes and ranches surrounding the facility for fear that the fire could ignite new and bigger explosions.
Initially, PEMEX officials tried to minimize the scope of the industrial disaster, failing to report the number of dead and injured early on and stressing that the fire had been quickly controlled. As the toll of fatalities became clear, however, the company was compelled to recognize the seriousness of the accident.
PEMEX Director Juan Jose Suarez told the media that there was “no evidence that it was a deliberate incident, or some kind of attack,” adding, “There is no reason to think that this terrible accident was caused by criminal gangs.” What has been learned so far, he said, points to an “unusual accident.”
(Continuing reading at

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  1. I just received this from an ex-Gladstone resident who had the good sense to relocate last year, as hundreds of other long-term residents have done:
    I assume an LNG explosion/ pool fire could also happen in Gladstone, where there will be at least 3 natural gas plants in close proximity to each other and in close proximity to LNG wharves with huge LNG ships? Given the quantities of gas involved in the Gladstone LNG plants and the LNG shipping in Gladstone Harbour, any Gladstone LNG explosion/ pool fire could be expected to be exponentially larger with corresponding devastating impacts on the Gladstone community?

  2. This is also what Peter Neilsen has previously warned of but he was ridiculed by an expert on everything (presumably even things not yet discovered) on another site because such things could never happen here. Wishful thinking?

  3. Without doubt, all loss of life in accidents, whether they be 'industrial' as in the instance under discussion in Mexico, or 'natural events' as in the Vic bushfires of recent memory, the Japanese tsunami,the earlier Indian Ocean tsunami, the Qld flodds or whatever, is very sad. Subsequent reviews if carried out openly and honestly can often show where responses could have been better, or perhaps 'work practices' significantly improved.

    On a different topic, the cavalier attitude to harbour development at Gladstone involving dredging which certainly has a lot to answer for, continues to attract appropriate scrutiny, and approbration. But I for one don't see this as a reason to attack the NG industry per se, or petroleum extraction industries in a wider sense. I don't have detailed stats in front of me and frankly I don't have the time or inclination to pursue same, but Blind Freddy would appreciate that the overall safety record of that hugely important area of human activity, oil / gas extraction, handling, transportation and storage, has a low 'disaster' incidence.

    Our own industry on the NW Shelf has had a very good record. CSG extraction on the East coast, now being joined by heightened interest in Shale Gas (and oil) which almost single - handedly is responsible in large part for the recovery now going on in the USA (and hence, western economies at large), certainly presents its own issues. Perhaps the start wasn't great, but these issues are being addressed, IMHO. No doubt there are currently areas of legitimate contention and these won't just 'go away', but as I said somewhere else recently 'Man can't live by bread (or fish, cane, wheat, wool, beef, unions, the public service, finance .....) alone'. We need industry and power to underwrite our lives, and windmills, biomass, tidal power, wave power, solar power etc etc, are not going to provide it, no matter how enthusiastic the 'environmental lobby' becomes.

    So, I am just suggesting that we need balance in addressing emotive issues such as this.
    Cheers al

    0 record

  4. Sure Al. My point is that such accidents can happen (we were told it would never happen here. I hope that is right but with three or four LNG plants in close proximity on Curtis Island and huge LNG tankers plying a narrow winding channel within a few hundred metres of the main city CBD it would be an almighty ka-boom if an accident did spark an explosion.
    Also I don't know if the North West Shelf project involves natural gas being piped 500-plus kilometres to the export port, with problems already encountered with faulty welds having to be Xrayed, cut and re-welded on the front-running QGC project near Dale Stiller's neck of the woods. Or if that involves an acknowledged high risk to vital underground water tables similar to those in the Surat and Bowen Basins.
    PS hope Dale is enjoying his well-earned break.

    1. Yes indeed John, accidents can happen, and have happened (witness your discussion here on the Mexican incident), but once NG is liquified for shipping, perhaps amazingly 'risks' associated with it are quite low. Anyone who wants to explore this further can simply google risks associated with shipping LNG.

      As you point out, gaseous methane distributed by pipeline is a different kettle issues, but we now have decades of experience with such distribution from the Bass St fields, and the Surat Basin, over very considerable distances indeed. Taking a broad view, the safety record has been very good indeed, as it has been in Europe and the US on very much larger scales, notwithstanding the antics of James Bond movies, or 'Gaslands'.
      Cheers al

      Something I am sure we would all agree on, is that these things, from drilling throught to LNG storage and shipping, have to be done RIGHT. No excuses, no shortcuts.
      Cheers al


    This link reports the explosion that occurred in Mexico Mid December 2012.
    26 dead and 46 injured and this is a relatively small plant compared to the 4 proposed on Gladstone.

    In 2005 the number 7 train at Bintulu in Malaysia exploded and was out of commission for 7 months.
    This facility was not yet officially commissioned when it happened so it could not be claimed that it was because of age.
    The cause was found to be an undercut in a weld that failed.

    We must remember that every bit of these plants and ships are welded and if it can happen in a plant that was so modern, then it could happen at any time and anywhere. Humans are not infallible and inadvertent incidents happen even in the most stringent conditions.
    (Those pipes that were failing out west were welded by tradesmen who believed that they were doing everything right but the quality of the materials let them down) Who is to say that the same could not happen in the building of the plants and ships.
    It already happened in Bintulu so it could happen anywhere.

    The attitude of the LNG proponents is that there needs to be less emphasis placed on the safety exclusion zones because they have never had a major explosion on an LNG tanker.

    The safety exclusion zone in Gladstone for shipping and production is 250 METRES. Because of the explosion in Bintulu, the safety exclusion zone set by the Malaysian Govt is 18 KILOMETRES.

    Some of the Gladstone proponents have facilities in Bintulu and seem unconcerned at the significant safety exclusion zone difference imposed on their operations.

    With the massive increase in LNG activity , worldwide there is also an increase of the same proportion in the risks and possibility of there being a major incident in the LNG production and shipping.

    It is foolhardy to go along believing and espousing that there is no danger because it has never happened before. That is not Science or Engineering standards, but foolhardy, greedy speculation to save money and hope that it never happens.

    You can be sure that if it ever does happen they will pass the buck to squirm out of meeting their obligations.

    You can't entirely blame the LNG because they never really wanted to establish where they were put but some have stated to myself that they would have preferred another site to establish but they were told it was here or nothing,still they accepted the BS from the GPC and set up here knowing full well that it was not able to meet the standards as set out by SGITTO so in actual fact it came down to greed because they did not object or refuse to establish here. The money overrode the sensibilities of the situation.

    Another thing that the LNG companies are adamant is that GPC have told them that it is quite ok to set up here because the GBRMPA was removed from the harbour and so it is not breaching the Marine Park rules.
    What they and the GPC refuse to acknowledge and accept is that the entire area is still within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area which should take precedence over the GBRMPA.

    The GBRMPA by its own description and definition does not exist.
    Take away the internal waters, islands and seas and submerged lands and you have a vacuum. The GBR ceases to exist when you apply this description because even if the reef was suspended in water it would not exist

  6. Isn't it great on this site we can discuss things in a rational manner without the snide "I know more than you (about everything)" attitude we were once familiar with? Even old partners in crime like Bro Al and me, and I certainly agree with his qualification that all these developments need to be done righ in the first placet. When they approved so many at the one time here, it made that a very difficult proposition IMO. But remember how Al and I were also accused of always singing from the same song sheet in support of each other (just like Phil and Don of the Everley Bros). Sure we agree on many of the big issues but anyone with eyes can see we see some things from a different perspective, just like everybody else!


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