Skikda LNG explosion

On January 19, 2004, an explosion occurred in a natural gas liquefaction plant in Skikda, 500km east of Algiers, Algeria. The plant is operated by Sonatrach, the State-owned oil and gas company. Three out of six gas liquefaction trains were destroyed and two, which were not operating at the time, were damaged ("train" is the term used to describe the liquification and purification facilities in a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant). The administration building and the maintenance workshop, together with other buildings, were completely destroyed. The explosion also led to the shutdown of a nearby electricity generating plant and an oil refinery. At least twenty-seven people died and at least 74 were injured.

Skikda is a six train natural gas liquefaction plant, consisting of four older liquefaction trains – 10, 20, 30 and 40 – situated on one side of the LNG storage area and two newer ones – 5P and 6P – on the other side. Train 40, where the initial explosion occurred, differed from the two other adjacent trains, using boilers to make high-pressure steam to drive turbines which power plant's refrigerant compressors that are used to liquefy the natural gas. This technology is now considered outdated. Train 40 also lacked the mercury removal sections which are fitted to the other trains.

The sequence of events was as follows :

  • At 6.39 p.m. on 19 January steam pressure was observed to rise in the steam
    boiler adjacent to the 0.85 mta capacity train, GL1-K unit 40. The operator took action to reduce fuel input to the lowest level
  • A visible vapor cloud was seen at 6.40 p.m. on train 40
  • The steam pressure in the boiler continued to rise, because unknown to the operator, flammable vapor from the external vapor cloud was being drawn into the air intake (aspirator fan), resulting in an explosive mixture in the boiler fire box.
  • Seconds later, at 6.40 p.m. there was a first explosion (the boiler) followed immediately by a massive explosion and fireball - a vapor cloud explosion
  • A large fire covered trains 40, 30 and 20, owing to release of flammable gas
    and liquids caused by major blast damage. Emergency medical help was sought for injured persons. The site's fire-fighting team from the unaffected part of the plant, the fire services from the Skikda industrial area and the regional fire brigade took action to protect train 10, nearest to the fire, and the LNG storage tanks. Remaining LNG operations were shut down.
  • After 8 hours, the fire on trains 20, 30 and 40 was extinguished.

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