Oxygen Pipeline Explosion – Incident Investigation

Pre-Arbitration, Russian, Eastern Europe, & Central Asia

A large oxygen pipeline suddenly exploded with a massive fire, causing significant damage to a manufacturing facility. We were engaged to review process data, integrity management inspection data, and the subarctic ambient environmental conditions to opine on the origin and cause of the loss of primary containment. As a result, we identified a most likely cause based on a reasonable degree of engineering certainty that facilitated settlement discussions.

A two-kilometer-long, high-pressure oxygen pipeline from an industrial gas facility was involved in a massive explosion and ensuing fire that significantly damaged a manufacturing plant and other pipelines. Baker & O’Brien was engaged to provide opinions on the likely cause and origin of the incident. Our team comprised an oxygen manufacturing expert, a pipeline construction expert, a process engineer, and a root cause failure expert.

The previous regulatory investigations were determined to be inconclusive because they failed to explain how oxygen could cause an explosion and a fire. Our team reviewed process data, integrity management inspection data, and ambient environmental data, and considered several factors as possible contributory causes, including the following:

  1. The three-foot diameter pipeline was forty years old with indications of inadequate welds.
  2. The oxygen supply pressure had been erratic for several days and the ambient temperature rapidly dropped shortly before the explosion.
  3. Moisture may have contributed to the incident due to internal ice buildup, as evidenced by a subsequent pipeline failure in an adjacent nitrogen pipeline.

Based on inductive reasoning, our consultants built a causal matrix of twelve hypotheses, of which only four could be eliminated. Our team utilized drone video footage and, based on a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, identified a most likely cause that other investigators had not previously discovered. The client used our analysis and conclusions during its settlement discussions.

Charles G. Kemp

Vice President

Chemicals and Petrochemicals / Transportation and Storage
Accident / Incident Investigation / Standard of Care / Expert Witness Testimony / Arbitration / Operations and Maintenance / Forensic Analysis
Russia, Eastern Europe, & Central Asia