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LPG scare after fire at RIL refinery

Govt is taking no chances after the major fire that engulfed RIL's Jamnagar refinery on Wednesday, reports Suman Layak.

india Updated: Oct 26, 2006 01:27 IST

The government is taking no chances after the major fire that engulfed the Jamnagar refinery of Reliance Industries this morning. Petroleum Minister Murli Deora said plans to import liquified petroleum gas (LPG) were being finalised, as a shortfall due to the fire is feared. Reliance accounts for 33 per cent of total domestic LPG production.

"So that people are not inconvenienced, we are going to import LPG,” Deora told a television channel according to AFP.

Site president for Reliance Industries P.K. Kapil however said the company would not suffer any production loss.

At the site, firefighters and employees are mouthing silent prayers.

One of the operators has suffered 60 per cent burns. Another is missing. A third operator suffered a deep cut on his forehead while trying to escape the fire While arrangements have been made to airlift the injured operator to Mumbai for better medical attention, those who are safe can only hope and pray for the man who has gone missing.

All three operators were in charge of a set of refinery units.

A senior executive told Hindustan Times, "The man who went missing is yet to reach home. We cannot find him here. We hope he will be back tomorrow."

No one has been able to enter the area where the fire began - on the ground level of the vacuum gas oil (VGO) hydro-treating unit. Only when it is safe to enter the unit will it become clear whether the missing man perished in the fire.

While the VGO hydrotreater unit willobviously not be working for the time being, a second unit will take on more load. At the same time treated oil -- already stored -- will be used up to keep the catalytic cracker, whichused to get its feed from the affected VGO unit, running. This cracker receives its feed from the VGO unit.

Petroleum Secretary MS Srinivasan said the disruption at the refinery could last as long as 10 days and could lead to a 100,000-ton shortfall in LPG production.

Reliance has set up an inquiry committee to find out the reasons of the fire. The panel will have a representative of Shell, which regularly audits the safety measures at the Jamnagar refinery.

The prima facie reason seems to be a hydrocarbon leak, which went undetected by the monitors located at the site. The operators who found the leak were closing the valves to isolate the unit when the fire broke out. They informed the control room around 10.30 a.m. The blaze was finally brought under control around 1 p.m.

This is the first time that an accident of this kind has occurred in the plant, the country's largest petroleum refinery with a capacity of 30 million tonnes per annum.

The Jamnagar plant is among the world's most complex refineries, allowing it to use cheaper high-sulphur crudes to produce more profitable, ultra-clean fuels. A hydro-treating unit, which uses hydrogen to remove sulphur and nitrogen compounds from oil products, is crucial in the process of upgrading feedstock fuel, which is then fed into the fluid catalytic cracker to produce gasoline and olefins.

First Published: Oct 25, 2006 16:24 IST