05 September 2012, Sweetcrude, LONDON – SINGAPOREAN authorities have charged Shell over safety lapses that allegedly lead to a major fire in September of last year at the Anglo-Dutch major’s 500,000 barrels-per-day refinery in the city state.
The Pulau Bukom refinery is Shell’s biggest plant worldwide, making up more than a third of Singapore’s capacity.
According to Reuters, the company is facing a fine of up to S$500,000 ($402,000) if convicted in the case, which is to be heard by a court on 25 September.
Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower filed a charge against Shell on 31 August for an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for the lapses in safety, the ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Reuters said Shell had declined to comment on the matter while the case was before the courts.
“We have extended our full cooperation to the relevant authorities,” a spokeswoman told the news wire on Tuesday.
“Safety is a top priority for Shell. We regret this incident and are applying the lessons to avoid such an occurrence in the future.”
Last September, Shell shut its Pulau Bukom refinery for more than two weeks after the fire forced the company to declare a force majeure on sales of some oil products and on some crude purchases. This is a condition in contracts that exempts buyers or sellers from commitments in the case of events that are beyond control.
The blaze occurred during maintenance work on a pipeline linking a naphtha tank to a pump house for oil products to be mixed and blended.
Shell had allowed an open draining method to be used during the de-oiling of the pipeline, the ministry said. De-oiling removes petroleum products from inside the pipeline.
The open-draining method used trays to collect naphtha flowing out of the pipeline through valves and a loosened flange joint that allowed the release of flammable vapours into the air, the ministry said.
“The accumulation of such vapours created a flammable atmosphere that would easily be ignited by any ignition source,” it added.
The naphtha flow into the tray could also have led to the build-up of static charge, possibly causing a spark that could then have ignited the flammable naphtha vapours.
Shell had also failed to deploy portable gas monitors near the open drainage site that would have alerted workers and safety staff to dangerous levels of vapour, the ministry said.