The heart of the newest, biggest U.S. oil refinery is useless
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission
In the end, all it took was a small chemical spill — perhaps less than a barrelful — to bring down the newest, mightiest oil refinery in the United States.
Three weeks ago, while workers repaired a minor leak at the Port Arthur, Texas plant owned by Motiva Enterprises, a few gallons a day of so-called “caustic” was inadvertently seeping into the newly built crude distillation unit (CDU), the 30-story-high network of interconnected cylinders and latticed pipelines at the heart of the refining process.
While harmless when mixed with crude, the undiluted caustic vaporized into an invisible but devastating agent of corrosion as the chamber heated up to 370ºC; the chemical gas raced through key units, fouled huge heaters and corroded thousands of feet of stainless steel pipe.
Now, just weeks after they commissioned the biggest U.S. refinery project in a decade, two of the world’s biggest oil titans — Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco, which own Motiva — are rushing to repair the potentially billion-dollar glitch that has added an embarrassing and costly coda to a landmark $10 billion expansion…
On Friday, in response to Reuters questions, Motiva spokeswoman Kayla Macke confirmed the contamination: “The preliminary inspection indicates that parts of the new unit have been contaminated with elevated levels of caustic.”
The extent of the damage is still not known as portions of the crude unit are too hot to enter, according to the sources. Some areas may not be accessible for weeks.
RTFA. It’s an adventure tale. It’s a long horror story. It would make a splendid documentary about “for want of a nail a shoe was lost!”
Every interlocking part of the disaster follows on naturally from the preceding event. Until you get to the initiating mistake which is yet to be agreed upon. Probably, not till everyone is in court.