Irving Oil Looks for Cause of Refinery Blast

Monday, October 15, 2018 @ 06:10 PM gHale

A blast and fire at an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunskwick had flames visible from miles away.

A malfunction in a diesel-treating unit is believed to be the source of a blast and fire at Irving Oil’s refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, last Monday, a company officials said.

WorkSafeNB, the Department of Environment and Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) officials will try to “understand what happened” and decide on next steps, said Irving Oil’s chief refining and supply officer Kevin Scott.

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“Very unfortunate event, but also fortunately a very rare event for us as a company and we will continue to focus on understanding what went wrong and we apply those lessons every single day that we go to work to try to maximize the safety of our operations and ultimately our employees and communities,” Scott said.

The explosion and fire shook the city and sent at least four contractors to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

By late evening, the situation had been stabilized, EMO officials said.

As part of the normal stabilization process, flare-ups were possible immediately afterward, but things ended up OK.

Area residents were ordered to shelter in place, but were able to go outside. The New Brunswick Department of Environment and Department of Health are monitoring air quality around the east-side refinery and “have not identified any concerns to public health,” EMO officials said.

The Saint John Fire Department has begun releasing some of its crews and equipment from the site and all streets have reopened to traffic.

A malfunction in a diesel-treating unit is believed to be the source of the blast that sent flames shooting an estimated 90 feet high and saw a plume of black smoke cover most of the city’s east side shortly after 10 a.m.

The unit, which removes sulphur from diesel, has been isolated and the rest of the refinery has been shut down “out of an abundance of caution,” Scott said.

The Irving Oil facility is the largest refinery in Canada. It employs about 1,400 people and is capable of producing more than 320,000 barrels per day at the sprawling site, which covers more than 300 hectares.

At the time of the blast, close to 3,000 people were working onsite due to a regularly scheduled maintenance project. About 100 were the normal operations crew, while the rest were tradespeople working on the turnaround project, officials said.

“The fact no one was hurt seriously or killed during this incident is something to be very thankful for,” said Saint John Mayor Don Darling.

Jonathan Wright, an electronic technician from Florida who was working inside the refinery during the fiery explosion, said he thought he was going to die.

“We got blasted to the ground. Everything blew up and I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “You couldn’t see nothing but flame.”

Wright knew he had to get out, but the heat from the fire kept him from the stairway down and he says there were no ladders.

“Basically I was swinging through scaffold poles and walking across pipes and everything to get out of there, it was terrible. I didn’t want to get burned.”

He hurt his hand, elbow and foot, but considers himself lucky. “I thought I was dead for sure, like guaranteed dead.”

Saint John police responded to the refinery at 10:16 a.m., and were asking people to avoid the area as curious onlookers lined the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was going on.

Several streets were closed but no residential evacuations were ordered.

At 10:58 a.m., Irving Oil confirmed on Twitter that there had been a “major incident” at the refinery, but did not provide any other details.

At 12:40 p.m., Saint John EMO tweeted fire and police remained at the scene of the “incident” and streets in the immediate area were closed to through traffic.

After the explosion, Saint John Regional Hospital went into “code orange,” meaning it was prepared for a possible influx of patients.

“We can confirm we have now treated five people with injuries from the refinery explosion at Horizon’s Saint John Regional Hospital and all five have been discharged.,” New Brunswick’s Horizon Health Network said on Twitter shortly after 3 p.m.

Irving Oil posted on Twitter around 2 p.m. that several contractors were being treated for non-life threatening injuries.

“We now understand that all employees and contractors working on site have been safely accounted for,” the tweet said.

It’s too soon to say how long the shutdown will continue, but Irving Oil hopes to avoid any interruptions to service, the company spokesperson said.

“We’re working through all of our contingency plans in terms of supply. Of course we have finished product in tankage at the refinery and then further out in the system in marine terminals and you know relationships with other suppliers as well that we will draw on to minimize the impact on any of our customers — in Canada or the U.S.,” Scott said.

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