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Taiwan petrochemical plant explosion shuts unit

16 April 2013

Taiwan’s state-owned refining firm CPC was forced to shut its 500,000 tonne/year No 5 cracker at its Kaohsiung complex on April 5  following a pipeline leak that led to an explosion at the site, a company official said, believed to be at a crude butadiene tank at the site. The subsequent fire was extinguished in about two hours and there were no casualties, the official said.

An aromatics facility at the site which has a 140,000 tonnes/year benzene unit may have been shut following the outage at the cracker, said a source close to the company.

However, the likely impact of a shutdown at the No 5 aromatics unit would be limited, the source said, adding that the operating situation at the facility is still uncertain. CPC’s No 3, No 4 and No 6 aromatics units were not directly affected as they are located away form the Kaohsiung complex, the source added.

The CPC official said the No 5 cracker was operating at 90% capacity prior to the outage. CPC facilities include a 230,000 tonne/year No 3 cracker and a 385,000 tonne/year No 4 cracker in Linyuan in southern Taiwan.

The company runs three paraxylene (PX) units at the site with a total production capacity of 660,000 tonnes/year. CPC also produces 170,000 tonnes/year of OX at the site.

A CPC customer based in Kaohsiung said that it was unclear as to when the company will be able to restart the cracker and the immediate impact to the company’s aromatics production.

Kaohsiung City’s environmental authorities slapped CPC with a NT$1 million fine for creating a hazard to the environment.

The fire is believed to have been caused by a fractured pipe in the factory's distillation tower, Lee Shun-chin, head of the refinery, said at a press conference.

Losses are estimated to reach about NT$50 million (US$1.69 million) because the plant was ordered to close right after the accident for repairs and safety checks, which will take at least one month to complete, Lee said.

Though Lee said no toxic gas or waste water leaked from the complex, the accident has fueled outrage among local residents who have for years complained about pollution from the refinery.

During her inspection of the site, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen was circled by angry protesters.

She told CPC to relocate the ageing refinery by 2015 as it has promised. She also urged CPC not to ignore safety at the plants simply because they are soon to be moved.

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