Gas Pipeline Explosion at Pemex, Reynosa, Mexico, 18 Sep 2012

Gas Pipeline Explosion near Reynosa, Mexico

Gas Pipeline Explosion near Reynosa, Mexico

See: Map ~ Analysis and Opinion ~ News Videos

Workers report that the ground shook just before a huge gas pipeline explosion occurred at a Mexican Pemex Refinery near Reynosa. The explosion in turn caused a fire that killed at least 30 people, injured 46, and left "charred storage tanks and a mound of tangled steel". At last report, 7 people are unaccounted for.

The blast occurred at 10:45 am, on 18 September, 2012, and thanks to co-ordinated responses from the company, local and state fire departments, the fire was extinguished by 12:40 pm.

Surviving workers reported that there was difficulty escaping the inferno due to fences topped with barbed wire.

Local hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of injured. A children's hospital received 9 people with serious burns covering 10% to 40% of their body.

Funeral homes were also overwhelmed. Identification of the dead, where possible, was done from photographs of remains.

And yet, the disaster could very easily have been much worse.

The gas explosion occurred at the site of a natural gas distribution center, located just 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the border city of Reynosa.

People within a 5 kilometer radius of the explosion were evacuated, and nearby wells closed.

It is only due to the quick action of local fire fighters and the Mexican army that this event did not evolve into a catastrophe.

Adjacent to the site of the explosion and fire is a storage tank.

Luckily, within two hours the fire was under control. Investigation into the cause of the explosion in underway. Early indications are that a defective valve is at fault.

Workers report that there were no warning signs, or alarms before the explosion. The ground shook, then the explosion and fire occurred immediately after.

continued below map...

Map of explosion area

19 kilometres south-west of Reynosa, by Reynosa-Monterrey highway

Analysis and Opinion

Hearts go out to the families of the victims of this tragedy. The event itself is horrible enough. The difficulties they face in dealing with the outcomes of the explosion make matters worse.

I hope that Pemex at the very least re-configures its fencing system, so that high fences with barbed wire, like the one shown in the image above, will never again be an impediment for people leaving the site in an emergency.

Kudos though to the teams of people involved in quickly bringing the fire under control, and preventing a catastrophe.

The what-ifs of this event are staggering.

If the same event had occurred later in the day, perhaps there would have been fewer fatalities.

On the other hand, it is also more likely that the response would have been slower and more difficult. Would it have been still possible to quickly contain the fire, if they were working in darkness and fewer people on hand to respond to the event?

If the storage tank had also been affected by the fire and it also exploded, would a five kilometre evacuation radius been far enough to avoid projectiles and other effects of the fire? Would there even be time for an evacuation?

Could alarms on the site been able to warn people of imminent danger in time?

Some media reports focus on the role of 3rd party contracted employees vs. regular employees working at Pemex. Most of the fatalities were contract workers.

Is it fair to consider potential issues of training and security in this instance, if it is true that a defective valve was the culprit?

As this is not the first time that defective valves have been the named culprit in natural gas explosions, the quality and durability of gas pipeline valves needs attention.

What is the expected lifetime of these valves, and are regulations in place for testing, maintenance and replacement?

Is a better design or better materials available?

Location of the natural gas wells, distribution centre and refinery perhaps should also be examined.

Why are they so close to urban centres?

Should there not be restrictions on types of development within a safe radius of industrial plants with explosive potential?

This particular operation is part of a system that extracts natural gas from the Burgos region, processes it at a plant adjacent to the explosion site, and delivers it to Pemex Gas and Basic Petrochemicals.

Interestingly, a report from the Bureau of Economic Geography, University of Texas, describes the Burgos basin in terms that suggest risk of earthquakes:

"The Miocene plays are structurally complex and are characterized by local and regional detachment systems, growth faults, and an associated regionwide pattern of downthrown extensional rollover folds, pervasive secondary faults, and salt and shale diapiric masses that dominate the east part of the basin. The Burgos Basin appears to be a transitional zone between gravitational collapse in offshore Mexican basins to the south and salt-related raft tectonics of the South Texas Gulf Coast. "

Consider also these statements:

From a corporate filing of nearby Entorian Technologies:
"Our operations could be disrupted by power outages, political unrest, natural disasters or other disasters.
We operate a manufacturing facility in Reynosa, Mexico. This area is subject to earthquakes, fires, flooding and other natural disasters. This facility is also subject to an epidemic, political unrest, war, labor strikes or work stoppages. Interruptions in supply or utilities at these locations would likely result in the disruption of our manufacturing services, cause significant delays in shipments of our products and materially and adversely affect our operating results."

From the Chinci World Atlas:
Risk of:

  • Earthquake 20%

  • Flood 70%

  • Cyclone 50%

Reynosa can have low impact (v or less) earthquakes (on average one every 50 years), with occurances at <5 Richter. When an earthquake occurs, it may be felt indoors by many people, outdoors by a few people during the day. At night, some people may be awakened. There is a extremely high occurence of periods with extreme drought. Flooding risk is medium-high. There is a medium chance of cyclones hitting Reynosa. "

Given these conditions, does it make sense for a highly explosive substance like natural gas be extracted and processed here?

At the end of the day, Mexico uses natural gas primarily for cooking in residential use.

There are safer ways to boil water.

News Videos of Pemex Gas Explosion near Reynosa, Mexico

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