CSB lists causes of 2007 W.Va. propane tank explosion which killed 4

Inadequate propane technician and emergency responder training, and unsafe propane tank placement were the primary causes of a fatal accident in January 2007 at a West Virginia convenience store, the US Chemical Safety Board said on Sept. 25.

The Jan. 30, 2007, explosion at the Little General convenience store in Ghent, about 70 miles south of Charleston, killed two emergency responders and two propane technicians, CSB investigators said in their final draft report.

Six other people were injured in the blast, they said. All had remained in the vicinity of a propane release behind the store and did not evacuate the area. The explosion leveled the store.

The final draft report, which is subject to the full CSB's approval, calls on West Virginia to provide annual hazardous materials training and drills for all firefighters. It also recommends improved training for propane service technicians throughout the United States.

It said that the accident occurred as a junior propane technician, who had not been formally trained and had been on the job only one-and-a-half months, prepared to transfer about 350 gallons of propane from an old 500-gallon tank to a new tank.

Defective valve

Propane was released from the old tank's liquid withdrawal valve after the technician removed a safety plug from the valve, which the CSB later determined had a manufacturing defect that caused it to be stuck in an open position.

The CSB also determined that, probably because of a lack of training, the technician likely did not observe a telltale sign that the valve was defective: The safety plug has a small hole through which propane may be seen leaking if the valve is stuck open, before the plug is fully removed.

Investigators from the federal agency estimated the leak began at about 10:25 a.m. and that the building exploded just after 10:53 a.m.

The CSB investigation found that a propane tank had been installed against the back wall of the store in 1994 by propane supplier Southern Sun, in violation of US Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and the West Virginia state fire code, which require 500-gallon tanks to be placed at least 10 feet away from buildings. Southern Sun was later acquired by Ferrellgas in 1996, but the tank remained where it was against the store's back wall.

On the day of the explosion, the tank location enabled the liquid and vapor shooting up from the valve to enter directly into the building through overhanging attic vents located above the tank. Propane then diffused down through the ceiling, and bathroom ventilation ducts also likely carried propane into the store, the final draft report said.

Aware of requirement

"Our investigation team interviewed many delivery and service personnel who worked on this tank over the years. All of them were aware of the 10-foot separation requirement but none had reported the unsafe placement of this tank to their managers," CSB Lead Investigator Jeffrey Wanko said. Personnel mistakenly believed the unsafe tank placement had been approved, possibly under a variance. Ferrellgas inspections and audits did not uncover the situation over many years.

"Had the tank been ten feet away from the building, as required by OSHA standards and the state fire code, it is unlikely that an explosive concentration of propane would have built up inside the store," Wanko said.

CSB investigators found that the junior technician, an employee of Appalachian Heating, had been working alone and unsupervised on the propane system at the Little General, despite having no formal training. As propane continued to escape and infiltrate the store, the technician called his supervisor, who had left for another jobsite, then called 911. Despite the severity of the release, the technicians did not recommend an evacuation of the store and the surrounding area.

The 911 operator dispatched the Ghent Volunteer Fire Department to the report of a propane leak at the Little General. Subsequently, a volunteer fire captain, firefighter, and two emergency medical technicians arrived at the store. Four employees remained inside the store, after posting a sign saying, "Store closed due to gas leak," the CSB's draft report said.

It said that at about 10:53 a.m., the captain told the firefighter, "Make sure everybody's out, okay?" But before the firefighter could act, the propane ignited from an undetermined source and the store exploded. Debris struck and fatally injured the two technicians, the fire captain, and an emergency medical technician. The workers inside the store survived with serious injuries.

Did not recognize need

"We found that emergency responders' training was not sufficient to enable them to recognize the need for immediate evacuation," CSB Investigations Supervisor Robert Hall said. West Virginia only requires initial hazardous materials training for firefighters, generally a four-hour course when firefighters begin their careers, but refresher training is not required. The Ghent volunteer fire captain had received hazardous materials training only once, in 1998, the draft report said.

The CSB also found that West Virginia and 35 other states have no requirements for training or qualification of propane technicians. "'Emergency responders often need to call on propane technicians for assistance during propane-related emergencies. There is a need for training of both firefighters and technicians so they may work together to safely deal with propane releases that threaten the lives of residents, workers, and responders," CSB Chairman John S. Bresland said.

Training should include appropriate emergency measures including the need for immediate evacuation in the case of a significant propane release, the CSB said.

Propane emergencies occur frequently, according to Wanko. "There are about 17.5 million propane installations in the United States. Firefighters respond to propane emergencies nearly every day. Propane technicians, firefighters, and 911 operators have to be prepared for these emergencies," he maintained.

Wanko said that 911 operators typically use a set of guide cards to acquire pertinent information from callers and give appropriate instructions while dispatching responders to calls for help. However, there is no card specific to propane emergencies, he added. "Such a guide card would prompt operators to ask about the size and nature of propane leaks and potential dangers, and increase the likelihood of timely evacuations while firefighters determine the extent of the threat," he said.

Draft report's recommendations

The draft report recommends that the governor and legislature of West Virginia require training and qualification for all propane technicians. To improve training across the United States, the report recommends the National Fire Protection Association amend the national fire codes to call for specific training and testing for all personnel who handle propane.

To assure propane technicians are knowledgeable in handling emergencies, the draft report recommends that the Propane Education and Research Council, established by Congress to promote the safe use of propane, revise its training program to include emergency response guidance. Investigators said this training should emphasize the need to evacuate the scene of a release until all the hazards are known.

The National Propane Gas Association established its Certified Employee Training Program (CETP) in 1988 as a formal structure for training, testing and documentation to assure that propane industry employees have the necessary knowledge and skills to work safely and effectively, according to information at NPGA's website. PERC purchased the program in 2002, and it was revised into a more flexible "modular" format in 2004 which can be used in a variety of settings, NPGA said.

The CSB's draft report also recommends that Ferrellgas establish an improved inspection program and auditing system for propane installations.

The draft report calls on West Virginia to require annual hazardous materials training for all firefighters and emergency medical technicians in the state. The report also recommends that the West Virginia State Fire Commission require all fire departments to perform at least one hazardous materials response drill each year.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

Related Articles

Kinder Morgan to acquire Hiland Partners for $3 billion

01/22/2015 Kinder Morgan Inc. (KMI) has agreed to acquire Hiland Partners from founder Harold Hamm and certain Hamm family trusts for $3 billion, including th...

Capacity expansion planned for proposed Ohio GTL plant

01/19/2015 Ashtabula Energy LLC, Ashtabula, Ohio, a subsidiary of Velocys PLC, Houston, is seeking approval to build a grassroots gas-to-liquids plant that wo...

Tall Oak expanding Oklahoma natural gas midstream

01/06/2015 Tall Oak Midstream, LLC began natural gas gathering operations on its 150-mile STACK System, serving producers in Oklahoma’s STACK play (Sooner Tre...

Room in storage

01/05/2015 Rapid growth of oil stocks-a physical manifestation of the surplus that began crushing crude prices in mid-2014-raises a question: How much empty s...

FERC approves Cheniere’s Corpus Christi Liquefaction project, pipeline

01/02/2015 The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authorized Cheniere’s Corpus Christi Liquefaction LLC and Cheniere Corpus Christi Pipeline LP to co...

Cooper to buy 50% of offshore Gippsland Sole gas field

12/17/2014 Cooper Energy Ltd., Adelaide, has bought a 50% interest in the offshore Gippsland Sole dry gas field in retention lease Vic/RL3 as well as 50% of t...

EnCana, Talisman optimist on Montney, Duvernay

12/12/2014 EnCana Corp. has achieved significant cost savings in the Montney and Duvernay plays, executives told analysts while discussing EnCana's third-quar...

EPA approves Magellan’s Corpus Christi splitter project

12/12/2014 The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final greenhouse gas prevention of significant deterioration construction permit to Magellan Pr...

West Cornwall Township hears from Sunoco Logistics

12/12/2014

Sunoco Logistics Partners outlined its safety systems during a West Cornwall Township meeting in Pennsylvania on Nov. 10.

White Papers

What is System Level Thermo-Fluid Analysis?

This paper will explain some of the fundamentals of System Level Thermo-Fluid Analysis and demonstrate...

Accurate Thermo-Fluid Simulation in Real Time Environments

The crux of any task undertaken in System Level Thermo-Fluid Analysis is striking a balance between ti...

6 ways for Energy, Chemical and Oil and Gas Companies to Avert the Impending Workforce Crisis

As many as half of the skilled workers in energy, chemical and oil & gas industries are quickly he...
Sponsored by

AVEVA NET Accesses and Manages the Digital Asset

Global demand for new process plants, power plants and infrastructure is increasing steadily with the ...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Approach for the Digital Asset

To meet the requirements for leaner project execution and more efficient operations while transferring...
Sponsored by

Diversification - the technology aspects

In tough times, businesses seek to diversify into adjacent markets or to apply their skills and resour...
Sponsored by

Engineering & Design for Lean Construction

Modern marketing rhetoric claims that, in order to cut out expensive costs and reduce risks during the...
Sponsored by

Object Lessons - Why control of engineering design at the object level is essential for efficient project execution

Whatever the task, there is usually only one way to do it right and many more to do it wrong. In the c...
Sponsored by

Available Webcasts



The Future of US Refining

When Fri, Feb 6, 2015

Oil & Gas Journal’s Feb. 6, 2015, webcast will focus on the future of US refining as various forces this year conspire to pull the industry in different directions. Lower oil prices generally reduce feedstock costs, but they have also lowered refiners’ returns, as 2015 begins with refined products priced at lows not seen in years. If lower per-barrel crude prices dampen production of lighter crudes among shale plays, what will happen to refiners’ plans to export more barrels of lighter crudes? And as always, refiners will be affected by government regulations, particularly those that suppress demand, increase costs, or limit access to markets or supply.

register:WEBCAST


Oil & Gas Journal’s Forecast & Review/Worldwide Pipeline Construction 2015

When Fri, Jan 30, 2015

The  Forecast & Review/Worldwide Pipeline Construction 2015 Webcast will address Oil & Gas Journal’s outlooks for the oil market and pipeline construction in a year of turbulence. Based on two annual special reports, the webcast will be presented by OGJ Editor Bob Tippee and OGJ Managing Editor-Technology Chris Smith.
The Forecast & Review portion of the webcast will identify forces underlying the collapse in crude oil prices and assess prospects for changes essential to recovery—all in the context of geopolitical pressures buffeting the market.

register:WEBCAST



On Demand

Optimizing your asset management practices to mitigate the effects of a down market

Thu, Dec 11, 2014

The oil and gas market is in constant flux, and as the price of BOE (Barrel of Oil Equivalent) goes down it is increasingly important to optimize your asset management strategy to stay afloat.  Attend this webinar to learn how developing a solid asset management plan can help your company mitigate costs in any market.

register:WEBCAST


Parylene Conformal Coatings for the Oil & Gas Industry

Thu, Nov 20, 2014

In this concise 30-minute webinar, participants have an opportunity to learn more about how Parylene coatings are applied, their features, and the value they add to devices and components.

register:WEBCAST


Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected