Home Podcasts THMG129 – Fuel Blending Case Study

THMG129 – Fuel Blending Case Study


In this episode, Mike explores an oxidizer/fuel explosion with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Take a listen!

Complete Show Notes

2:10 Mike’s Selected Case Study

  • Monday, March 3rd at around 3 PM
  • Temperature is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit – no rain – a pleasant day
  • Units are reporting a large fire in a large vessel inside the facility

2:50 Questions Asked by Resource Officer to Gather Background Info

  • What is the purpose of the facility you’re going to?
    • In this case, it’s in the waste fuel blending industry that turns waste fuels into alternative fuels
  • Is there anyone on-scene at the facility who knows what’s going on?
    • Yes – they tell you the fire is in the part of the facility that takes waste fuels and blends them
  • Which substances were mixed?
    • In this case, you don’t get a very specific answer because they’re not sure – you can narrow it down to fuels, hydrocarbons, acids, bases, and sludge, though
  • What’s on fire?
    • A thousand-gallon mixing tank
  • What’s near the tank?
  • What might happen if we let the fire go and burn uncontrolled?
  • What things nearby might be affected? Can anything else catch on fire and create another hazard?
    • In this case, there’s a lot of things that could pose a hazard
  • Mike’s possibilities of what could have happened:
    • Substances mixed that weren’t supposed to
    • There was an unexpected ignition source that had a high vapor pressure

8:10 Lead Up to the Fire

  • Crew was dumping chemicals to the mixture as per usual when it began to bubble and erupt into fire
  • There were only around 60 gallons in the tank before it started to react – this means a failure or rupture probably isn’t the end of the world since it’s a relatively small amount
  • They were adding heavy-duty oxidizers to the waste oil right before it caught on fire – it now makes total sense why there was an explosion

10:30 Arriving On-Scene and the Entry Team

  • Entry team does recon – they’re the eyes of the operation and are responsible for getting in, gathering information, and getting out
  • They’re looking for:
    • What the first units have done so far
    • What kind of damage has been done to the facility
    • What kind of damage has been done to the tanks and anything surrounding the tanks
    • What’s happening to any exposures
    • Whether this have the potential to get a lot worse very quickly without any warning
  • There’s still a fire in the tank when they arrive – there’s heat and very thick, black smoke
  • There are also other tanks in the room and sprinklers have gone off in some areas
  • No life hazards at the moment
  • Entry team comes back and gives us all of this information in the hazmat huddle – this is where the team goes over what they know about the situation so far

13:00 Possible Solutions Generated by Hazmat Huddle

  • Let the fire burn itself out
    • Keep in mind that it has the potential to get worse and involve uncontained liquids
    • Create different zones to make sure no first responders are injured
    • This might be a particularly good option since the fire is already contained in a vessel
    • This also keeps us away from the unknown chemicals
    • Other drums and tanks are still exposed, though, which can cause an issue
    • Break out your thermal imaging cameras and draw conclusions from there
  • Vertical vent
    • Works well if we can get close enough to ventilate through the roof
  • Unmanned lines
    • This keeps water on the drums and tanks
  • Augment preexisting perforated pipes and sprinklers to keep things from getting too hot
  • Foam operation into the tank
    • Uses a small amount of water so the tank doesn’t overflow
    • We don’t know exactly what’s in the tank, though, which can be problematic
    • This means we need a bunch of different types of foam with us on-scene
    • If the fire doesn’t go out even with the application of foam, we have to figure out why

18:15 What to Do Next

  • Create an evacuation plan so everybody gets out safely – workers and first responders
  • Look at the smoke plume, especially in a residential setting
  • Make sure the staging area is away from any potentially dangerous situations
  • Call in foam units – we don’t now the polarity inside the tank, so we need to be prepared for worst case scenario
  • Evacuate downhill areas and cordon off anywhere liquid could get into
  • Staging areas should always be uphill

20:35 The Actual Case Study

  • March 1997 explosion in Haskell, Oklahoma at the Chief Supply Corporation fuel blending operation
  • Fuel blending mixes flammable liquids together with all sorts of waste fluids to create new hydrocarbon-based fuels
  • Industry grew out of the need for a type of fuel to power cement production kilns while also getting rid of hazardous waste – involved the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
  • Chief Supply Corporation was taking in all kinds of different nasty chemicals – before mixing things together, they’d send samples to a lab to be tested
  • A few of the samples came back as very strong oxidizers – shouldn’t have been mixed with fuels in the first place, but they still were since the company did stuff like that all the time
  • Their SOP (standard operating procedure) was to add the oxidizers to the batch AFTER the thousand-gallon container was around three-quarters full
  • EPA regulations don’t allow for this, but the company had been doing it for years without incident – this is very common in the fuel blending industry
  • Crew added several 55-gallon drums of waste fuels to the mixture and then added 4 5-gallon buckets of oxidizers
  • There wasn’t enough liquid to absorb the heat of the reaction – this caused the tank to erupt into a giant fire 30-60 seconds after the oxidizers were combined
  • One of the crew members was killed and two others were injured – also caused extensive damage to the facility
  • Had they done it properly, there would have been heat and bubbling, but the heat would have been absorbed properly

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