The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) released its final investigation report on the November 27, 2019, explosions and fires at the TPC Group Port Neches Operations facility Chemical Plant in Port Neches, Texas. The incident occurred when a piping section ruptured, releasing highly flammable butadiene that quickly ignited.
The resulting pressure wave destroyed parts of the facility and injured two TPC employees and a security contractor. The blast damaged nearby homes and buildings and was reportedly felt up to 30 miles away. Local officials stated that process fluid that continued to escape from ruptured equipment fueled fires that burned for more than a month.
The CSB found that a dangerous substance known as popcorn polymer, which is prone to forming in processes with high-purity butadiene, had accumulated in a temporary “dead leg” in piping that was created when a process pump was taken out of service for several months. During this period, popcorn polymer developed and exponentially expanded until pressure inside the dead leg caused the piping section to rupture, releasing butadiene that then exploded.
As a result of the incident, the CSB made a recommendation to the TPC Group to develop and implement a process to identify and control, or eliminate, dead legs in high-purity butadiene service. This process must include requirements for identifying potential dead legs, implementing preventive design strategies, preventing popcorn polymer buildup, and effective management oversight. The agency also made recommendations to the American Chemistry Council to revise its “Butadiene Product Stewardship Guidance Manual” to include guidance on identifying and controlling or eliminating dead legs in high-purity butadiene service, as well as provide guidance on a methodology to help identify what should be considered excessive or dangerous amounts of popcorn polymer in a unit.
About the photo: Thick smoke fills the sky above the TPC plant Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Port Neches, Texas. (Kim Brent/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)
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