Deadly fire at Venezuela's largest oil refinery.

On August 25, 2012 at 01:11, an explosion occurred at the Amuay refinery in the Paraguana Refinery Complex in Venezuela caused by the ignition of a gas cloud following a propane or butane leak. The blast killed at least 41 people, and injured >80 others. More than 200 homes were damaged by the shock wave. Puddles of petroleum mixed with water covered roads in the area. Residents reported there had been a strong smell of gas and a dense fog-like cloud days before the deadly explosion.

Paraguana Refinery Complex

  • World’s second largest refinery complex (after Jamnagar in India).
  • Located on the NW coast of Venezuela 30 miles South of Aruba.
  • Refines nearly 1 Million barrels/day.
  • Consists of the Cardon Refinery, the Amuay Refinery, and the Bajo Grande Refinery as well as South America’s largest hydrogen production facility.
  • Refineries commissioned between 1949 and 1956.

A History of Incidents in the Complex

  • 2003 – Two workers were injured in an explosion at an electrical substation.
  • 2005 – Six serious accidents, including an explosion in November 2005, which killed five workers and injured 20
  • 2006 – Five serious accidents which killed three and injured five workers. Fire in the furnace 54,000 bpd catalytic reformer unit.
  • 2011 – Fire at the hydrodesulphurization unit
  • 2012 – Fire in the distillation unit. Refinery was shut for 8 hours due to air supply fault.
  • According to Gente del Petroleo, an organization of retired oil executives, since 2003 there had been 79 accidents in the complex, where 19 workers had died and 67 had been gravely injured
  • The Amuay refinery was scheduled to undergo nine maintenance shutdowns but only two were conducted because of “lack of parts”.

Government Responses

Governor Lugo

Governor Lugo announced the evening of the incident that the fire had been brought under control and there was no danger of further explosions.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez predicted that the refinery's operations would resume within 48 hours and that there would be no "major effects" on oil exports.

President Hugo Chavez

President Hugo Chavez rejected reports that poor maintenance at the refinery was the cause. When asked about reports that a gas leak had occurred over the prior three or four days, he responded: “…that is practically impossible in an installation of this kind, the largest refinery in the world. It is completely automatised and it has thousands of responsible workers here day and night… there is no way that there could have been a gas leak during three or four days and that no one did anything."

Lack of Safety Focus

Secretary-General of the United Federation of Oil Workers Ivan Freites blamed the government for a "lack of maintenance and investment" in the oil sector as the main cause of the incident.

Other sources