September 29th, 2011

Oil Refinery Fire, Bukom Island, Singapore

Posted at 3:07 PM ET

oil-refine-smallA large fire broke out at Royal Dutch Shell’s massive Pulau Bukom refinery near Singapore on September 28, damaging parts of the plant and prompting the closure of some units at the facility. Reports said the fire at the 500,000 barrels-a-day refinery in Pulau Bukom, an island 5 kilometers (3 miles) off Singapore, started at about 13:15 local time (05:15 UTC) and has now been burning for more than a day. Eyewitnesses also reportedly heard three large explosions at the facility. Reports said the fire is the worst to affect the site in 23 years.

Shell confirmed the fire damaged the pump room at the plant, which contains pipes used for blending refined fuels, and added that some production units near the blaze were shut as a precaution, including a hydrocracking unit that helps make diesel. Reports said firefighters have struggled to contain the blaze, prompting Shell to shut two of its three crude distillation units, including the largest No 5 unit, with the third running at a reduced rate. Reports also said berthing operations at the refinery have been suspended. Shell has so far declined comment on the shutdown of the crude units or the berthing suspensions.

oil-refine-big

Shell said nobody was killed or seriously injured by the blaze and the company had evacuated nonessential staff from the refining complex, although some 250 workers (including its firefighting team) are still at the refinery to oversee operations. About 100 firefighters from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) were deployed to battle the flames and reports indicate the crews are struggling to contain the blaze. The SCDF initially said the blaze had been contained within an area measuring 150 meters by 50 meters (495 feet by 165 feet). However, it later reported that the fire had intensified in the evening and said firefighting operations were still ongoing.

Reports said the fire occurred where finished oil products are transferred from the final production unit into storage tanks by being pumped through pipelines. According to the National Environment Agency, the smoke plume generated from the fire has not affected Singapore so far. Shell said it believes the fire was an accident and said a full investigation will be conducted once the fire is put out. The company added that one of its firefighters sustained a superficial injury while five others suffered heat exhaustion and a pulled muscle whilst battling the blaze.

According to reports, the Pulau Bukom refinery is the largest Shell owns, with a crude distillation capacity of 500,000 barrels per day. It also makes up more than a third of Singapore’s refining capacity. In addition to refining crude oil, the complex also includes an 800,000 ton-a-year ethylene cracker and a 155,000 ton-a-year butadiene-extraction unit. Reports said Shell is operating its ethylene cracker normally using alternative feedstock (the ethylene cracker is normally fed by products from the hydrocracking unit that is shut).

Sources: CNN News, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, BBC News, Platts Commodity News

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Guy Carpenter publishes CAT-i reports for major natural catastrophes worldwide. These reports cover catastrophes including worldwide tropical cyclones, earthquakes, major UK and European floods and any other natural event that is likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email CAT.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Guy Carpenter compiles RISK-i reports for major technological or man-made events worldwide. These reports cover risks to property, transport and life including explosions, fires, crashes, engineering disasters and terrorist attacks that are likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email RISK.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

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