CSB Sheds Light on Fatal Kleen Energy Explosion, Highlights Gas Blow Hazards

March 3, 2010
In a Feb. 25 statement, U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Lead Investigator Don Holmstrom said the fatal Feb. 7 explosion at the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown, Conn., occurred during a planned gas blow. He expressed broader safety concerns over natural gas power plants venting gas near worksites, a practice he called “inherently unsafe.”

Holmstrom described a gas blow as a common industry practice that entails releasing gas at high velocity through open pipe ends to remove debris from the pipes. In the Kleen Energy Plant incident, the gas built up in a congested area and was ignited by an undetermined source. Six workers died in the explosion.

“Initial calculations by CSB investigators reveal that approximately 400,000 standard cubic feet of gas were released to the atmosphere near the building in the final 10 minutes before the blast,” Holmstrom said.

“That is enough natural gas to fill the entire volume of a pro-basketball arena with an explosive natural gas-air mixture, from the floor to the ceiling,” he added.

A team of 10 CSB investigators arrived at the Kleen Energy Plant on Feb. 8 to examine the accident site, conduct interviews and review documents. CSB’s investigation will focus on determining the regulations, codes and good practices that might apply to gas blows.

“In the meantime, we strongly caution natural gas power plants and other industries against the venting of high-pressure natural gas in or near worksites. This practice, although common, is inherently unsafe,” Holmstrom said.

Broader Concerns

“The safety issues raised by this accident are not limited to Connecticut,” Holmstrom said. “These issues are larger than any particular company, facility or individual. The U.S. has embarked an ambitious construction effort for new natural gas power plants. Thousands and thousands of workers across the country will be involved in constructing these plants. The safety of these workers and the nation’s energy independence are at stake as these gas-fired plants are built over the next 20 years.”

Holmstrom added that CSB is investigating possible alternatives to gas blowing, including the use of air, steam, nitrogen, water or combustion devices to safely destroy the gas.

“Companies must ensure that flammable gases are not vented into close proximity with ignition sources and workers. That is a vital safety message from all these tragedies,” Holmstrom said.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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