Feds Investigating Rupture, Fire at Calif. Renewable Site

Image Source: CSB

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board released an update on its investigation of a November 19, 2023, fire at the Martinez Renewables facility in Martinez, Calif. The Martinez Renewables facility is a 50/50 joint partnership between Marathon Petroleum and Neste, operated by a subsidiary of Marathon.

The investigation found that a metal tube ruptured within a reactor charge furnace during a unit startup. The furnace pre-heats renewable feedstock, recycled renewable diesel and hydrogen before subsequent processing. The ruptured tube released hot renewable diesel and hydrogen, resulting in a fire that seriously injured one Marathon employee who suffered third-degree burns to most of his face and body.

Also Read: Industrial Fire Familiarization: Furnace Tube Rupture

CSB Chairperson Steve Owens said, “The CSB is continuing to investigate this terrible incident to determine its cause, but we are issuing this update now to keep the public informed of the status of our investigation. Like here, many of the incidents that have been investigated by the CSB have occurred during start-ups when conditions at a facility can change quickly. These situations can present a unique set of safety hazards that must be carefully managed and controlled.”

The CSB’s update involves several key events in the incident timeline. These include activities occurring on the night shift of November 18 when Marathon was in the process of starting up the hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) unit. Within the hour leading up to the incident, Marathon operations staff were attending to furnace temperature control issues and high temperature alarms inside the furnace.

To reduce temperatures within the furnace, Marathon operations staff increased the flow of material through the furnace and directed a field operator to turn off two of the furnace burners. Around 12:21 a.m., just after the field operator had completed this action at the furnace, a tube ruptured within the furnace, resulting in the fire that severely burned the field operator.

Investigator-in-Charge Melike Yersiz said, “Our team still has a lot of investigative work to do. Ultimately, our goal is to identify probable causes of this incident and develop safety recommendations to prevent a similar event from occurring.”

CSB will continue to gather facts and analyze several key areas including metallurgical testing and failure mode analysis. The agency will also conduct internal furnace component inspections and thoroughly review relevant facility, corporate and industry standards.

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