September 4, 2012 / 4:50 AM / 8 years ago

Singapore charges Shell over safety lapses in refinery fire

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Authorities in Singapore have charged Royal Dutch Shell RDsA.L with safety lapses leading to a major fire last year at the Anglo-Dutch giant’s 500,000 barrels-per-day refinery in the city state.

Shell’s Bukom refinery is its biggest plant worldwide and makes up more than a third of Singapore’s capacity. The company faces a fine of up to S$500,000 (252,957 pounds) if convicted in the case, which is to be heard by a court on September 25.

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower filed a charge against Shell on August 31 for an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for the lapses in safety, the ministry said in a statement late on Monday.

Shell declined comment on the matter as the case is before the courts.

“We have extended our full cooperation to the relevant authorities,” a spokeswoman said 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 Bukom refinery for just over two weeks after the fire forced the oil major 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 case of events that are beyond control.

The blaze occurred during maintenance work on a pipeline linking a naphtha tank to a pumphouse 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, perhaps 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.

Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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