NTSB blames ConocoPhillips for 2003 Glenpool fuel tank fire

Thursday, October 14th 2004, 6:23 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ ConocoPhillips Inc.'s improper handling of stored fuel probably caused a costly 2003 explosion and fire at a Glenpool tank farm, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

ConocoPhillips filled the tank with diesel faster than industry and company standards, generating increased static electricity that ignited gasoline vapor formed during a recent draining, the NTSB said.

``The probable cause ... was ignition of a flammable fuel-air mixture within the tank by a static electricity discharge due to the improper manner in which ConocoPhillips Company conducted tank operations,'' the board said in a summary of its meeting Wednesday in Washington.

Rich Johnson, a spokesman for the Houston-based diversified energy giant, said the company's own investigation resulted in findings ``consistent'' with those reported by NTSB.

``Safety for the public and our employees and the environment are a top priority for ConocoPhillips,'' Johnson said. ``Along with that commitment, we've already taken steps to improve safety at the Glenpool terminal and other facilities.''

The 80,000-barrel storage tank, part of a sprawling tank farm south of Tulsa, exploded about 9 p.m. on April 7, 2003, as diesel was being pumped into the tank from an Explorer Pipeline Co. line.

No one was injured in the blast, which sent orange flames roiling into the air. Plumes of thick black smoke prompted officials to order evacuation for about 100 people and close Glenpool schools for two days.

The explosion and resulting fire caused about $2.4 million in costs, including emergency response, environmental cleanup, lost product, property damage and claims, the NTSB said in its preliminary findings.

The damage and impact were increased, the NTSB said, when the blaze snapped nearby power lines, igniting spilled fuel and causing a fire in a nearby tank holding a semi-refined petroleum product called naphtha.

The board blamed Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power workers for failing to coordinate with emergency responders and to plan with ConocoPhillips, the nation's third largest energy company.

Because of this, ``the emergency response was unsuccessful in managing the electrical hazard caused by the tank explosion and fire,'' the NTSB said.

Ed Bettinger, spokesman for AEP's Oklahoma subsidiary Public Service Co., said the utility has already worked to improve coordination with local emergency management officials and its internal procedures.

``This was a highly unusual occurrence and a majority of our emergency response plans, not surprisingly, are storm oriented,'' Bettinger said. ``This one was unprecedented.''