June 28, 2010 Middletown, CT On a 4-1 vote, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board tonight approved urgent safety recommendations to OSHA, NFPA and others. The draft recommendations, which were approved without amendments at a public meeting in Portland, CT, aim to prevent deadly explosions and fires during pipe cleaning and purging operations.
The recommendations – directed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and others, result from extensive CSB investigations into the February 7, 2010, explosion at the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown that caused six deaths and multiple injuries, and the June 9, 2009, explosion at the ConAgra Foods Slim Jim plant in Garner, North Carolina, that killed four workers and injured 67.
The accident at Kleen Energy occurred during the planned cleaning of natural gas piping during the commissioning and startup phase of construction. Natural gas was forced through large piping that was to fuel the plant’s large electricity-generating gas turbines, in an operation called a “natural gas blow.” This gas was vented directly to the atmosphere from open pipe ends that were less than 20 feet off the ground and were located in congested areas adjacent to the power generation building.
CSB investigators obtained gas company records showing some two million standard cubic feet of natural gas were released to the atmosphere during gas blows on February 7—enough, the CSB calculated, to provide heating and cooking fuel to a typical American home every day for more than 25 years!! The gas found an ignition source and exploded.
In the CSB proposed recommendations, OSHA is urged to pass regulations that would prohibit the use of natural gas for pipe cleaning, the cause of the explosion at Kleen Energy, and would prohibit the venting or purging of fuel gas indoors, the cause of the explosion at the ConAgra Slim Jim plant. Both explosions resulted from releases of natural gas during the installation and commissioning of new piping that led to gas-fired appliances.
OSHA is also urged to require that companies involve their workers and contractors in developing safe procedures and training for handling fuel gas.
In testimony this morning at a field hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, held in Middletown, CSB Board Member John Bresland said there is a “significant gap” in the current gas safety standards for general industry and construction, “a gap that threatens the continued safety of workers at facilities that handle flammable natural gas.”
An urgent recommendation directed at the NFPA urges the code-development organization to enact a tentative interim amendment as well as permanent changes to the National Fuel Gas Code that addresses the safe conduct of fuel gas piping cleaning operations. Under the draft recommendation, NFPA would be asked to remove key exemptions in the code for natural gas power plants and for high-pressure gas piping and to require the use of inherently safer alternatives to natural gas blows. CSB investigators determined that compressed air is a feasible and economical alternative to using natural gas for pipe cleaning and is already used by many companies.
Mr. Bresland told the House Committee, “At our CSB public meeting later this evening, I intend to vote for and support new urgent safety recommendations that we have developed, calling for OSHA to enact new regulations to control this hazard, and I will encourage the other Board members to do the same.”
Other draft recommendations would seek related safety improvements from the State of Connecticut and other states, the leading gas turbine manufacturers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Electric Power Research Institute.
At the public meeting, newly appointed CSB Chairman Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso will preside; Dr. Moure and Mr. Mark Griffon were confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday June 23 and were commissioned by President Obama the following day.
The CSB public meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Saint Clements Castle conference facility, 1931 Portland-Cobalt Road, Portland, Connecticut, (860) 342-0593. The public is invited; no prior arrangements are needed. Attendance is free and there will be ample seating and free parking.
The CSB investigation team, headed by Investigations Supervisor Don Holmstrom, will present a report on the Kleen Energy accident as well as a review of existing regulations applying to the practice of gas blows at power plants and general industry.
The Board will hear from two witness panels, including –
· Professor Paul Amyotte – Dalhousie University (Canada)
· Ervin Patterson – Commissioning Management Services, Inc.
· Larry Danner – GE Energy
· Representative Matthew Lesser – Connecticut House of Representatives
· Professor Glenn Corbett – John Jay College of Criminal Justice (New York)
· Michael Rosario – Local 777, United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters
· Steven Schrag – Connecticut Council for Occupational Safety and Health
Following a public comment period in which any interested person may speak, the Board will vote on the recommendations. The CSB staff is expected to propose (subject to Board approval) that upon passage of the urgent recommendations, the Kleen Energy and ConAgra investigations would be concluded. Although no additional written report is planned beyond the statement of more than 60 factual findings, the CSB plans to develop a computer-animated safety video describing the two accidents and the recommendations for safety change.
Mr. Bresland told the House committee, “We believe that the 18 urgent recommendations proposed today – together with the two urgent recommendations we issued on February 4 – address all of the principal root causes of these two tragic accidents. If adopted by the recipients, I have no doubt that future accidents will be avoided and lives will be saved as a result.”