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MOTIVA REFINERY DEBACLE: Caustic – the same thing that blew up Norco. Unbelievable

Might as well melt it all down and start over…



Re: Motiva Refinery Debacle – Unbelievable. Lock-out, Tag-out, the most basic safety rule, strikes again.

The same thing that blew-up Piper Alpha. Caustic – the same thing that blew up Norco. Unbelievable.

And Caustic doesn’t just pit stainless, it causes cracks in stress areas. They will have to use advanced ultrasound techniques on every millimeter of hundreds of miles of piping because a hidden crack will propagate and cause a failure days or years in the future.

Might as well melt it all down and start over.



Many of your readers may not know what the ‘caustic’ substance was that caused all the problems at the Shell/Aramco Motiva Refinery near Houston (Port Arthur), Texas. The following links will explain the issue:
Spent caustic – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sodium hydroxide – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Treatment processes in petroleum refining

“ Introduction To The Treatment of Spent Caustic”[PDF]

Stress Corrosion Cracking: Case Studies in Refinery Equipment

Battling Corrosion in Refineries – – With the Power of In-line Analysis

Avoiding Caustic Stress Corrosion Cracking of Carbon Steel Refinery


Note that in the US most of the spent ‘caustic’ chemicals used in the refining process are disposed of in deep underground wells. It can be reprocessed but the oil and gas industry finds it cheaper to simply pump the stuff underground. This type of disposal can pose long term environmental pollution/contamination problems for underground aquifers if the disposal wells are not properly plugged after they are abandoned.

Also note that stress cracking and corrosion frequently occurs due to a failure to relieve the stress in the refinery piping, etc. This is really a quality control issue during construction of a facility. Who knows what kind of QC was implemented at the Motiva refinery during construction.

The Motiva gang might want to read these, although I am certain they have their own training materials:

NACE 21102: Caustic Stress Corrosion Cracking Refinery Equipment

NACE RP0403-2003 – Avoiding Caustic Stress Corrosion Cracking …

The point here is that corrosion issues in refineries are well understood. So, why did Shell have this problem ??

Given all the comments that have appeared in your blog over the last several years about the mediocrity of Shell’s management of the expansion of this particular plant it would appear that Shell and Aramco have been bitten very hard by mediocre management and oversight during the startup phase of this new facility. The $300 million to $1 billion dollar fix for this plant is the ‘cost’ of retaining inferior managerial talent at Shell.

Is it any wonder RD Shell is viewed as having ‘sustainability issues’ as a company. Shell needs to clean house and rid itself of its ‘good old boys’ and hire some truly professional managers.

I hope Shell does a better job of managing its Alaska drilling operations that it did with the start-up of its new $10 billion Port Arthur refinery. If they cannot then Shell management needs to get out of the oil and gas industry altogether and go do something it is good at.


Shell UPPER MANAGEMENT at its “finest”!! How many more bi$$ion will it take before you get it right !?!?!?

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