The ongoing investigation into the explosion at the Freeport Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) export plant near the Texas Gulf in June has uncovered that employee fatigue was allegedly a contributing factor.
The heavily-redacted report that asserted the finding was made public on November 15 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). After the explosion, the plant — one of the largest U.S. natural gas export terminals — closed down for three months, and efforts to reopen have been slow.
In the aftermath of the blast, the price of natural gas dropped amid an oversupply, as The Dallas Express previously reported. At the same time, the price of liquefied natural gas surged as the Ukraine-Russia war and other outages further stretched supply thin.
Leading up to the explosion, according to IFO Consulting Group, the majority of Freeport plant operators had been working 20% more than their usual 12-hour shifts. It was also reportedly common practice for workers to pick up overtime on their days off.
The consulting group also uncovered alleged failures in alarm systems and deficient valve testing procedures.
Inside the control room, there were allegedly insufficient indications to alert operators when temperatures rose rapidly inside the pipeline before the explosion.
Reportedly, some alarms went off constantly, leading to some operators getting “alarm fatigue,” which can result in desensitization to alarms.
Consequently, there was an overreliance on “operator discretion” to close valves that could cause liquified natural gas to get trapped in a pipe. Yet operators were fatigued from understaffing, a state of tiredness that “can increase errors, delay responses, and cloud decision-making,” according to the consulting group’s report.
A combination of problems with the plant’s warning systems, inadequate testing procedures, and fatigue-related human error was behind the explosion, according to the report.
The likely cause of the explosion, as reported by the consulting group, was “[s]everely damaged” electrical wiring that ignited the gas released from a leaking pipeline and ignited a fireball.
Freeport responded to the report by stating they had implemented new safety programs to ensure valves were adequately tested and added more temperature alerts to the control room.
Until recently, Freeport had insisted it would reopen in November. However, reopening has now been delayed to December. However, PHMSA claimed that the plant has not yet submitted a complete repair plan for its formal review and approval.
At this point, Freeport will likely not resume commercial production until early 2023, leading to natural gas futures backing off from a more optimistic 8% to nearly 1%.
Am I the only one that finds it amazing that so many catastrophes are happening almost daily in just the last couple of years? And yes, many people are expected to work beyond their limit. I experienced that years ago on my own job. The more you do, the better you are, the more they pile on until you’re ready to pull your hair out. I guess they’ve never heard of the stick that breaks the camel’s back.
As my daddy used to say, “Don’t worry about the mule, just load the wagon!’