Energy Minister Franklin Khan yesterday said that NiQuan Energy cannot resume operations until his investigative team returns with a report on what triggered an early morning explosion yesterday which jolted residents of Marabella and nearby areas out of their sleep, leaving them terrified.
The explosion at the plant occurred almost a month after it was opened by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. It has been lauded as the first commercial GTL plant in the western hemisphere.
In a brief telephone interview yesterday Khan said that the team was not fully appointed yet but it would be headed by Senior Chemical Engineer Craig Boodoo.
“We finalising the team, it would be about three people,” Khan said.
“They have to do a thorough investigation. That is our statutory duty to so do and the plant would not be able to commence operations until they get the clearance from the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, based on the findings of the team,” he said.
Just after 6.30 yesterday morning, the hydrocracker at NiQuan’s Gas-to-Liquids Plant exploded and led to a subsequent fire at the plant which is located at the Pointe-a-Pierre Refinery compound.
Residents in surrounding communities were left startled by the sound of the explosion and quickly posted pictures of smoke emanating from the plant to social media to show what was taking place.
The fire was immediately contained according to the Ministry of National Security and the police service issued an advisory to avoid the area.
Minister Khan said that NiQuan was in suspension mode until his team returned with its report.
“Well it is in suspension mode for other reasons, but they won’t be able to restart until we do our investigations to find out what was the cause of this incident,” Khan said.
Khan added that all remedial action needed to take place before the plant could restart.
“Obviously it’s a plant, a plant that exports commodities, a plant that makes money but you cannot sacrifice safety,” he said.
In response to questions about its timeline to restart, NiQuan Energy said that returning to its operations was not its main focus.
“Right now our focus is on looking after our people and on understanding exactly what caused this and preventing a repeat. Once we’ve done that, we’ll turn our attention to the operational implications of this incident,” NiQuan’s VP of Corporate Affairs, Malcolm Wells said.
Wells said that NiQuan Energy suffered a “serious equipment failure during the start-up of the hydrocracker system” which led to the explosion that shook Pointe-a-Pierre and environs early yesterday morning.
The company’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Malcolm Wells yesterday told Guardian Media that the system failure resulted in “the blow out of the DA-301 system, part of the product cleaning process, and caused a fire”.
The company said that as per the established safety procedures, the plant was immediately shut down safely and the natural gas supply was isolated.
“The fire was swiftly extinguished by the automatic fire prevention system on the plant supported by the operating team using the hydrant-based system. The incident area was contained and made safe by the safety team,” Wells said.
He said there were no casualties and the safety procedures worked as planned and the company’s operator training proved effective.
“At no point was there any threat to people or property in any of the areas surrounding the plant,” he said.
Wells said that the safety team was working closely with the project team and with relevant external stakeholders “to identify exactly what went wrong and to ensure that there is a robust plan in place that addresses the causes and guards against any further incidents” “NiQuan Energy is also cooperating fully with the responsible authorities in this regard,” he said.
Wells also thanked the emergency response services for their prompt action.
“It is a matter of huge regret to the company that our zero-incident safety record has been lost, and in such a fashion, but we are grateful that everyone on our site was unhurt,” he said.
“We cannot turn back the clock, but we can commit to doing everything necessary to ensure that we learn from this incident and that there is no repeat of this failure,” Wells said.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) also issued a statement saying that it too would be conducting an investigation into what happened at the GTL plant.
In its media release, the EMA said that NiQuan was granted a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) for the modification of the GTL plant to include a steam generator and a chiller system.
“The EMA will conduct an assessment of environmental impact and further investigations at the site of the incident in accordance with the conditions as outlined in the CEC,” it said.
“Investigations are ongoing,” the EMA said.