Venezuelan Report: Refinery Disaster Caused by Intentional Manipulation of Gas Pump Bolts

Following government allegations a fortnight ago that last year’s Amuay refinery disaster was caused by sabotage, authorities have now released a full report with details of the year-long investigation.

By Tamara Pearson
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Petroleum and mining minister Rafael Ramirez presenting the report of the investigation into the Amuay tragedy (AVN)
Petroleum and mining minister Rafael Ramirez presenting the report of the investigation into the Amuay tragedy (AVN)

Merida, 10th September 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Following government allegations a fortnight ago that last year’s Amuay refinery disaster was caused by sabotage, authorities have now released a full report with details of the year-long investigation.

The gas explosion on 25 August 2012 in Venezuela’s largest oil refinery, located in Falcon state, left 47 dead (1 PDVSA worker, 24 national guards, 11 national guard family members, 5 people from the Puramin company, 1 contract security guard, and 5 disappeared from the residential area of the national guards) and 135 wounded (6 PDVSA workers and 129 National Guards and the family).

Late President Hugo Chavez ordered an immediate technical investigation into the causes of the explosion. The government has argued that the disaster was caused by an act of sabotage by the conservative opposition, presumably in a bid to dampen the popularity of Hugo Chavez in the lead up to the October 2012 presidential election.

The 117 page report (which is laid out in presentation format) is titled Class A Event-  Amuay Refinery, and dated 9 September 2013. It includes an introduction, the investigation committee, the aim of the report, the event, actions taken in response to it, analysis of it, and conclusions, as well as a range of graphics, photos and graphs.

According to the report, the refinery, which was built by the Creole Petroleum Corporation and began operating in January 1950, was subject to a large gas leak, which then caught fire.

A large portion of the report is dedicated to analysing the studs (screws without heads) in pump 2601. Seven of the eight studs were insufficiently screwed down, with one absent entirely, meaning that motor vibrations could cause the screws to gradually fail.

The report concludes that the studs (illustrated here in this video) were intentionally made loose, “facilitating their rupture” due to a “process of mechanic fatigue”, leading to a gas leak in the pump’s flange. A consequent opening of 7.4cm allowed for a large and quick alkene leak.

The resulting gas cloud moved in a south east direction, towards Detachment 44 of the National Guard, and was lit when a vehicle started up as the National Guard began vacating the area after being informed of the leak.

The report concludes that Amuay workers, supervisors and managers took the necessary actions of reporting the emergency (when the gas leak first started, an hour before the explosion) and closing off roads, as well as adequate measures to extinguish and control the eventual fire.

Seventeen petroleum specialists were permanently involved in the investigation, and makers of the David Brown bomb and the Westinghouse motor were consulted. 18 simulations were carried out, as well as nine mathematical analyses and 179 tests and laboratory trials.

One of those specialists, Ruben Figuera, told VTV yesterday that after conducting the various tests there was “no doubt” of the deliberate nature of what happened in Amuay. “One or various people” were involved, and both Figuera and petroleum minister Rafael Ramirez allege the person or people could not have been PDVSA workers, who would have had to sign in to work in that area of the refinery.

“The bolts were intentionally loosened... and it was a person who knew what they were doing,” Ramirez said at the presentation of the report yesterday.

“In 10 seconds the [gas] cloud reached 7 metres... and after 10 minutes the alkene cloud was so dense that our teams couldn’t arrive at the site of the event,” Ramirez explained. He alleged the objective of the “sabotage” was to “totally paralyse operations” of the plant.

Those behind the alleged sabotage “knew the area, they didn’t interfere with any old machinery, but rather with the system that is responsible for a very volatile and flammable product... and they knew the specific place to intervene and produce a gas leak that would be big enough to cause major losses,” Ramirez concluded.

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