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Singapore charges Shell with safety lapses in fire

Sept. 4, 2012, 3:14 a.m. EDT

By Gaurav Raghuvanshi

SINGAPORE–Singapore’s government has charged Royal Dutch Shell PLC RDS.A +0.27% for safety lapses that led to a major fire at the Anglo-Dutch oil company’s 500,000 barrel-a-day refinery in the city state last year.

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower filed a charge against Shell on Aug. 31 for an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for the lapses in safety, the ministry said in a statement emailed to Dow Jones on Tuesday. The case will be heard in the Subordinate Courts on Sept. 25. The company faces a fine of up to 500,000 Singapore dollars (US$401,700) for the breach if convicted, according to the statement.

The refinery, at Pulau Bukom, is Shell’s biggest plant worldwide.

“We are not in a position to comment, as the matter is currently before the courts. We have extended our full cooperation to the relevant authorities. Safety is a top priority for Shell,” a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

“We regret this incident and are applying the learnings to avoid such an occurrence in the future,” the spokeswoman added.

The incident occurred in September last year when Shell was conducting maintenance work on a pipeline that started from a naphtha tank and passed through a pumphouse where petroleum products were mixed and blended.

On Sept. 28, a fire broke out at the pumphouse and escalated with multiple explosions. It was fully extinguished after 32 hours, according to the government statement.

The fire didn’t cause any serious injuries, although the pumphouse was badly damaged and the Bukom refinery had to be temporarily shut down.

The refinery was using an open-draining method to remove petroleum products from the pipeline. The open-draining method used trays to collect naphtha flowing out of the pipeline through valves and a loosened flange joint that allowed the release of flammable vapors into the air, the ministry said.

Shell had also failed to deploy portable gas monitors that would have allowed measurements to be taken within the proximity of the open draining and would have alerted workers and safety staff to dangerous levels of flammable vapors, it added.

–Eric Yep contributed to this article

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