BASF Deals With Aftermath of Deadly Blast

20.10.2016 -

Two days after the explosion that killed three people at BASF’s main production site in Ludwigshafen, Germany, neither a suspected cause had been officially determined nor the chemicals released in the conflagration precisely identified, though site management said ethylene and propylene were probably involved.  Given other priorities, estimates of financial repercussions also had not yet been published.

BASF said the fire had damaged a number of external supply pipelines, without identifying which ones. Work to restore interrupted production as far as possible was planned to begin immediately, potentially diminishing fears that a prolonged outage at one of the market’s key players could disrupt the European market for a longer period.

In addition to the fatalities, the blast injured at least 20 people, with eight of the injuries termed serious or critical. After the deaths of two members of the BASF fire brigade in the explosion, a third direct casualty was confirmed on Oct. 19 as a body was retrieved from the Rhine River near the explosion site. Authorities said the man may have been part of the crew of the tank ship that had been pumping chemicals through a pipeline to the site’s facilities when the explosion occurred.

In total, the accident forced the temporary closure or partial output reduction of 24 plants at Ludwigshafen, including the site’s two steam crackers that have joint nameplate capacity for 2 million t/y of naphtha. BASF said it has declared force majeure to customers for naphtha, ethylene and propylene from the two facilities but hoped to alleviate the shortfall as soon as possible through alternative arrangements.

On the evening of Oct. 19, after the smoldering fires had been completely extinguished, the group announced that, following an intensive safety assessment and in close coordination with the regulatory authority Southern German Structure and Licensing Directorate, it planned to restart the two crackers over the next several days, with excess gas to be flared off during the restart process.

Once the crackers are back up, BASF said most of the affected downstream plants will probably go back on stream. As the force majeure is unlikely to be immediately removed, customers are being informed about product availability. Analysts said the chemical group may have to buy in supplies from other producers, as is usual in such cases.

Meanwhile, BASF is making logistical arrangements to bypass the still non-functioning North Harbor, where the accident occurred. It said naphtha supplies may be routed via the Friesenheim Island harbor on the Rhine, where tank farms are functional and liquids can be handled. Gate 15, one of the main points of entry to the Ludwigshafen site, will remain closed for an undetermined period, with trucks supplying production facilities rerouted. The intermodal transport terminal was also to remain closed due to safety considerations.

The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate meanwhile has launched an investigation into the cause of the explosion and commissioned an expert opinion. The state legislature is also planning a special session to discuss repercussions from the accident. The mayor of Ludwigshafen has ordered the city’s flags to be flown at half-mast and said she would organize a meeting, together with BASF, to discuss questions of safety at the chemical site.