On June 8th, 2022, an explosion at a liquified natural gas processing plant in Texas was so intense it briefly caused a fireball reported to be some 450 feet high. Company officials believed the accident occurred after “the overpressure and rupture of a segment of an LNG transfer line, leading to the rapid flashing of LNG and the release and ignition of the natural gas vapor cloud.”
The Freeport LNG plant along the Gulf Coast is responsible for a fifth of U.S. LNG processing so the event – and subsequent monthslong shutdown – has proved to be significant in terms of supply and related spikes in price. And while there were fortunately no injuries that resulted from the explosion and fire, U.S. regulators launched an investigation nonetheless.
This week, we’ve learned the results of the investigation, as regulators seeking to determine the cause of the incident revealed new details.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued a report produced by a consultant that’s been described by Reuters as “heavily redacted.”
Despite this, there’s still plenty to see: the report identifies what it’s deemed the major causes behind the incident and they cite things like “deficiencies in valve testing procedures, failure to adjust alarms that could warn operators of rising temperatures during operations and operating procedures that allowed ‘operator discretion’ to close valves that might cause LNG to be isolated in pipes,” says Reuters.
The report also points to alarms that were “constantly indicating” – some for years, and on equipment that was out of service. They say this led to the phenomenon known as “alarm fatigue” which results in worker desensitization or delayed response to these alerts.
As for the fireball, the report adds that "severely damaged" electrical wiring was the likely cause of the ignition of released gas from the pipeline breach – leading to the 450-foot plume.
Freeport LNG says it has adopted procedural changes and hopes to have the plant back online at partial capacity sometime this month, although PHMSA must okay the company's plan before a restart is approved.