Phillips 66 Polyethylene Explosion


On October 23rd maintenance was being performed on a reactor processing polyethylene at the Phillips 66 Company Houston Chemical Complex in Pasadena, Texas.

Contract maintenance personnel were used to remove solidified polyethylene from the settling legs of the reactor. The procedure involved closing the valve joining one settling leg to the reactor to remove the solidified polyporopylene from it, while leaving the others open to allow processing to continue.

The open and close ends of valve were identical, and the air hose was incorrectly connected. Although the actuator switch indicated that the valve was closed, it was open.

Flammable gasses were released for two minutes before ignition occurred. The consequent fire and explosion resulted in 23 workers being killed and more than 130 being injured, with property damage of nearly $1 billion.

Fix?

Making it impossible to connect the air hose incorrectly would have made it less likely that the valve would be in the wrong position.

Similar?

An incorrect connection caused the Apollo 13 explosion.

Fix?

The Piper Alpha oil platform inferno was also caused by faulty maintenance activities.