Four killed in British oil refinery blast

3rd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

An explosion at one of the largest oil refineries in western Europe killed four contractors and sent a massive fireball shooting into the sky, British police said on Friday.

The blast at the Chevron refinery near Pembroke, on the coast of southwest Wales, could be heard across the area and sent fire crews scrambling to the scene.

Police said maintenance work was being carried out on a storage tank when the incident occurred. One seriously injured man was airlifted to a nearby hospital.

The local Dyfed-Powys Police force said the fire authorities were alerted to an explosion at 6:22pm (1722 GMT) Thursday.

"Paramedics have confirmed that four people lost their lives as a result of the incident," Chief Superintendent Gwyn Thomas said.

"The fire was a result of an explosion in an 730-cubic metre storage tank whilst maintenance work was carried out. Damage was also caused to an adjacent storage tank.

"A police investigation is now underway, with the Health and Safety Executive, and early indications show that this was a tragic industrial incident."

Around 50 firefighters tackled the blaze, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said.

"The fire itself was extinguished quickly," said assistant chief fire officer Chris Davies.

He said the wind was blowing offshore and any material released would have been dispersed immediately, meaning there was no risk to public health.

Chevron, the second-biggest US oil company, released a statement saying "all appropriate action" had been taken in response to the situation.

Local residents described hearing the blast and seeing the flames.

"I heard a large explosion, turned around and saw a large fireball disappearing into the sky," one resident, Phil Horne, told the BBC.

"It went about halfway up the chimney stack of the refinery."

Liz Herbert said: "I heard a massive bang and saw a huge plume of thick black smoke. It was really frightening."

The refinery, which employs 1,400 people, can refine 220,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

The plant was due to change hands after US firm Valero agreed earlier this year to buy it for 730 million dollars (503 million euros) and pay a further one billion dollars for the stocks of oil, petrol and other products on the site.

Refinery general manager Greg Hanggi said the deaths were "utterly devastating" and sent his sympathies to the victims' families.

"We will ensure that all employees and contractors are fully supported throughout this difficult time," he said.

"We will take every step possible to determine the series of events that led to this tragic incident and ensure that any lessons learnt from it will be integrated into the business and shared with our industry partners."

The last major explosion at an oil installation in Britain took place at the Buncefield depot, north of London, in 2005.

The blast at the depot -- jointly run by Texaco, part of Chevron, and French oil giant Total -- was one of the biggest in peacetime Europe.

It was reportedly heard as far away as France and Belgium and measured 2.4 on the Richter Scale.

One of Britain's costliest industrial disasters, the explosion left 43 people injured and forced 2,000 others to leave their homes. Despite the size of the explosion, no-one was killed.

© 2011 AFP

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