Total reports steamcracker unit explosion at Carling

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, July 17 -- An explosion that occurred in the early afternoon of July 15 at Total Petrochemicals France’s steamcracker unit at the Saint-Avold-Carling site in eastern France killed two people and wounded six others. The injured were subsequently discharged from the hospital, a Total spokesman told OGJ.

The accident occurred as the steamcracker was being restarted after a shutdown due to recent heavy storms in the area. The plant has been made safe and there is no risk of pollution, Total said.

A superheater was thought to have caused the explosion although no reasons have been given thus far for a cause. Total speculates that an accumlulation of gas occurred during the unit’s operation and caused the blast.

The 250,000 tonne/year steamcracker was one of two crackers on the site. The second unit was shut down in 2008 and is in the process of being dismantled following a decision to restructure the Carling site. The remaining steamcracker had been thoroughly revamped during an October 2007 shutdown and its capacity increased.

Total SA Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie, after visiting the site shortly after the incident, reassured workers that “the accident does not jeopardize the survival of the site.”

In view of the current difficulties of the petrochemicals market in France, the Carling trade unions were worried that the site, which is in the process of being restructured, might be shut down, thinking that the cost of reconstruction of the damaged steamcracker might be too high to take on in a period of economic uncertainty.

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