Natural Gas Tanker Explodes on highway

- Hunan Province, central China, 6 Oct 2012

Explosion of natural gas in overturned tanker

Explosion of natural gas in overturned tanker

A tanker, carrying liquefied natural gas, overturned as it neared a bridge on China's Changde-Jishou Expressway in Huaihua City (Yunling county, Hunan Province).

Firefighters arrived on the scene quickly, but were not able to prevent a natural gas explosion. Three firefighters were killed.

CCTV captured the explosion, which can be seen in the news videos below. When the explosion occurred, a thick plume of smoke rose upwards, as well as down the highway, enveloping the vehicles behind the tanker. The video also clearly shows large chunks of debris being hurtled in the air by the explosion.

continued below...

Map of Gas Explosion

The still image above shows the impact shortly after the explosion.

Local news reports that the fire continued to burn a day later.

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Analysis and Opinion

This news story is worth making note of because it highlights yet another area of risk in the procurement of natural gas - transportation.

Transporting liquefied natural gas is a dangerous task. Risks occur at every stage. Even loading the tanker trucks can result in large explosions if there is a gas leak (similar to what happened at the Sunrise propane explosion in Toronto).

Once the tankers are on the road, there are all the usual risks attracted to all driving - weather conditions causing slick or icy roads, road debris (especially mud), and of course, driver error - both the tanker driver and others.

The weight of the tanker truck makes it harder to stop or to react to sudden changes in traffic. Trucks of all kinds are prone to blown tires.

In this instance, we don't know yet what caused the tanker to land on its side, very near to a bridge.

The outcome of this accident could easily have been much worse, especially as it took place in an urban setting.

Had the tanker truck landed under the bridge rather than in front of it, the damage of the explosion and fire would have been much, much greater. And the ability of disaster response teams would have been that much more difficult.

It was a bit of luck that there was a time delay between the accident and the explosion. That allowed authorities to restrict traffic to the area and to have emergency response personnel on hand.

There is no guarantee that sufficient delay would exist in the future. The explosion could easily have occurred almost immediately after the crash, and many more would have been killed.

Is there anything that could have been done by the fire-fighters that arrived on the scene to prevent the deaths that did occur?

Were they equipped with natural gas detectors that could have warned them of explosive levels of the toxic gas?

Was there equipment available to reduce the risk of explosion? In the Sunrise Propane explosion, a huge disaster was averted by the local fire departments that sprayed continuous water on the tanks. Could a similar approach have helped here? If so, are there protocols that would make the necessary equipment available and training of disaster response teams?

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