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Williams Wyoming natgas plant explosion is company’s fourth incident in last year

28 April 2014

Williams Partners LP said on April 28 it plans to return to service the four undamaged units at its natural gas processing plant in Opal, Wyoming, which closed last week after an explosion and fire damaged one of the facility's five units. The company said in a statement it was working with regulators and developing "preliminary plans" to bring the units back in a timely manner.

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Reuters notes the capacity of the four undamaged units totals 1.1 billion cubic feet of gas per day, which is sufficient to handle all of the gas currently available to the facility.The facility has remained shut since the April 23 incident. There were no reported injuries or damage to property outside the 160-acre facility, the company said.

The Opal plant has the capacity to process 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas daily when all five turbo-expander cryogenic gas-processing units are operating.

Oil and gas company Williams Cos Inc, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, owns 66 percent of Williams Partners.

A report in Tulsa World says the Wyoming incident is the latest of four that have affected Williams gas facilities in the last year.

Company spokesman Tom Droege said that every accident has its unique set of circumstances and that investigators are working to determine whether the causes are internal or external.

"Our company, our employees and our contractors all understand the great care that our business requires every day for safe, reliable operations," Droege said in a emailed response to questions from the Tulsa World. "We understand that one incident is one too many."
The four accidents have garnered significant media and regulatory attention. Three occurred in the past month.

Other than the Opal blast, on April 5 a Williams gathering pipeline in West Virginia ruptured and caught fire. The 12-inch line, which moves unprocessed natural gas out of the Marcellus Shale fields, was not in operation and no one was injured.

On March 31, a William Partners liquefied natural gas plant at Plymouth near the Washington-Oregon border was shut and some people evacuated after an explosion that injured an employee. The investigation is focused on a failed pressure vessel that removes carbon dioxide from the gas prior to liquefaction.

The most damaging incident happened at Geismar in Louisiana on June 13, 2013, when an explosion killed two workers. The subsequent OSHA report cited Williams for a "willful violation" of safety practices. The agency proposed $99,000 in fines for the blast, which also injured nearly 80 people.

A Williams investigatory report issued in October pinned the fire's cause to a rupture in an off-line reboiler, a type of heat exchanger. The main factors contributing to the incident included the unexpected presence of liquid hydrocarbons in a reboiler, heat and a pressure relief system that was isolated from the reboiler, according to the report.

Company spokesman Droege told Tulsa World the company historically performs better than the industry at large. The number of incidents per 1,000 miles of assets was 0.40 for Williams in 2010, compared with 0.56 per 1,000 miles industrywide.

The past two years were even better despite the four accidents. Williams said its rate of incidents was 0.33 in 2013 and 0.26 so far this year, compared with 0.52 and 0.46 across the industry.

"Many Williams facilities continue to record a 'no lost-time injury record' year after year, some even achieving 20 years of work without incurring a lost-time injury," Droege said.

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