Report: Flammable vapors leaked from tank as workers tried to assess damage

Thursday, December 16th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PONCA CITY, Okla. (AP) -- A preliminary report on an explosion at the Conoco refinery says officials were unaware that flammable vapors had leaked from a damaged fuel tank when workers began cutting away insulation with a power saw to assess the situation. Sparks from the power saw ignited the vapors Oct. 28, causing an explosion and fire in an 80,000-barrel tank that was more than half-full of a hydrocarbon mixture called gas-oil, Conoco spokesman Kenneth Ray said Wednesday.

Two workers, 49-year-old Eric Lowe and Mike Rowe, 25, were critically injured in the blaze. Both were hospitalized for several weeks. Tank No. 118 was damaged when it was over pressured while the gas-oil was pumped into it, Ray said. The temperature of the gas-oil created some steam from residual water in the tank. Steam expanded and caused the over-pressure, he said.

A crack occurred on the top seam of the tank, which is designed that way so its liquid contents don't spill. The two men were sent to look at the extent of the damage. "No one knew that there were any vapors trapped between the insulation and the tank itself," Ray said. "Some vapors escapedand were trapped in that area."

Both Lowe and Rowe are back home in Kaw City recovering from their injuries. Lowe was released from the hospital about a month ago. Rowe was released last weekend, Ray said. "Doctors told us from the beginning that both guys were in such excellent physical condition before the accident that that really was a main factor in their recovery.