View Full Version : 5 Dead, Dozens Hurt in Connecticut Power Plant Blast

February 8th, 2010, 04:42 AM
We heard news of this at work this morning, since it's in a related industry.

5 Dead, Dozens Hurt in Connecticut Power Plant Blast


A power plant under construction in central Connecticut exploded with earthquake force that shook homes across much of the state on Sunday as workers purged natural gas lines in preparation for the plant to open this year. At least five people were killed and more than two dozen were injured as a section of the plant collapsed and burned.

Witnesses said the explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown, 15 miles south of Hartford, occurred at 11:17 a.m. in a thundering convulsion of flames and smoke seen for miles around and felt as far away as cities and towns on the shore of Long Island Sound, 30 miles away.

As towering plumes of dark smoke poured into a dazzling blue sky, scores of ambulances, fire engines, police cars and helicopters streamed to the scene on the west bank of the Connecticut River on the southern outskirts of the city, the home of Wesleyan University.

Fire and rescue teams from Middletown, Durham, Portland, Cromwell and other towns converged as crews fought the blaze into the afternoon. Aerial pictures showed a smoking, sprawling riverside site with buildings housing generators, fuel tanks and other power equipment, topped by two smokestacks. The explosion apparently occurred in the largest building, called the Power Block, which was destroyed.

River Road leading to the site was a tangle of firefighting and rescue equipment. Flames were seen shooting from a pipeline after the blast, but the line was capped shortly after noon, officials said. Even so, scattered fires blazed and smoke billowed over the scene for hours, and search-and-rescue teams looked through the rubble for victims into the night. The search, with dogs, sound-detecting and thermal imaging equipment, could go on for days, officials said.

Mayor Sebastian N. Giuliano of Middletown, at a late-afternoon news briefing, said that five people were known to be dead, but he did not release names pending notification of their families. The son of one victim, Raymond Dobratz, 57, of Old Saybrook, a pipe fitter who had been working at the plant for a year, said his father had been killed.

Mayor Giuliano said the number of dead and injured remained unclear because the number of workers at the plant fluctuated, in part because so many subcontractors were involved. He said the workers had been purging gas lines all weekend.

He said that as many as 200 construction workers had been at the plant daily, though fire officials said only about 50 were on the job at the time of the explosion. The mayor said various contractors were being asked to identify workers at the site on Sunday. “We need to know who was there today,” the mayor said.

And while the cause of the blast remained undetermined, the mayor said that a natural gas explosion was “the assumed cause.” He added, “Terrorism has been ruled out.”

Mr. Giuliano said that many of the construction workers had been evacuated from the site before draining the lines of natural gas, as standard procedure, and he said there had been no previous accidents at the plant — “not so much as a hangnail,” he said.

The explosion was under investigation by the state and local police and by several federal agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the United States Chemical Safety Board, which examines chemical industrial accidents. Daniel M. Horowitz, a spokesman for the chemical safety board, said that a team of investigators would be at the site on Monday.

Fire officials said the explosion occurred as workers for the construction company, O & G Industries, were purging the pipelines of natural gas, the main source of fuel for the plant, in a procedure known as a blow-down.

Mr. Horowitz said he could not confirm that report, but noted that a gas purge last June at a food-processing plant in Garner, N.C., killed four people and injured 67 others. He said his agency had issued urgent safety recommendations in that case just Thursday related to purging, the clearing of air during maintenance or installation of new piping.

Gordon Holk, the Middletown plant’s general manager, said workers from O & G; Ducci Electrical Contractors, of Torrington; and Keystone Mechanical Electrical Contractors had been at the site on Sunday.

Tests were under way in preparation for a spring or summer opening of the 620-megawatt plant, which has been under construction since September 2007 in an old feldspar quarry and was 95 percent finished. The plant, one of the largest power facilities to be built in New England in recent years, was to supply electricity to Connecticut Light and Power.

As many as 1,000 workers had been employed in building the plant, but the number had declined to 400 or 500 recently, according to Philip Armetta, the project’s developer, whose 45 percent interest was placed in a trust when he pleaded guilty in 2007 to a charge of failing to disclose knowledge of price-fixing in the state’s trash disposal industry.

Representative Matthew Lesser, a freshman Democrat who lives a mile from the plant and represents an adjacent district in the State House, said the $1 billion plant, which has faced “regulatory hurdles,” had been expected to cut the costs of power in a state that has some of the highest rates in the nation.

Al Santostefano, the deputy fire marshal in Middletown, said the authorities believed that about 50 employees were in the building where the explosion occurred, and he spoke of the difficulties of searching for victims in the rubble. “It’s a slow dig,” he said. “There’s a possibility someone could still be alive under the debris.”

While the number of casualties was uncertain, hospitals in Middletown, Hartford and New Haven reported receiving more than two dozen injured people.

At Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, Peg Arico, a spokeswoman, said 26 people were brought from the site for treatment. Two victims suffering major injuries that could not be treated at Middlesex were transferred to trauma centers, one to Hartford Hospital and one to Yale-New Haven, Ms. Arico said. Most of the others were treated and released.

“We did not see a lot of burn victims,” she said. “Of the ones that we are still treating, many have broken bones and others have abdominal pain. The injuries can be described as impact injuries from the explosion.”

Hartford Hospital said two injured people were brought directly from the explosion, in addition to one transferred from Middlesex .

The explosion shook the walls and windows of homes 20 to 30 miles from the scene and touched off an avalanche of telephone calls as residents across a swath of the state contacted relatives and friends to see if anyone had been hurt. It also set off a flood of Internet commentaries.

The project contractor, O & G Industries, was described on its Web site as a closely held company based in Torrington. Algonquin Gas Transmission was listed as the gas supplier, and the plant’s turbines were manufactured by Siemens Power Generation. Kleen Energy Systems is owned principally by Energy Investors Funds, which recently acquired an 80 percent share.

Mr. Lesser, a member of the Energy and Technology Committee of the State House, said he was having a cup of coffee when his building shook.

“There was a loud rumble and my windows in my apartment rattled for 5 to 10 seconds,” he recalled. “I had no idea what it was. It was peculiar, but I didn’t think anything of it.” Then, he said, he began getting phone calls and text messages about the explosion.

“The first couple asked, ‘Did you feel that?’ and one person thought it was an earthquake,” he said. “And then the subsequent ones reported about the explosion itself.”

The tests being conducted at the plant on Sunday were in preparation for a spring opening, he said. “The hope was that by increasing generation, we could bring electric rates under control.”


February 8th, 2010, 04:52 AM
Desperate Search for Victims of Explosion in Connecticut


MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — Search and rescue crews braved icy weather late into the evening Sunday to look for possible survivors who might be buried in the wreckage at the site of a power plant where hours earlier an explosion rocked this central Connecticut college town.

Their efforts were being frustrated by a sheer absence of information about how many people were working at the site, where construction crews were completing work on the power plant being built by Kleen Energy Systems.

City and state officials said as many as 100 to 200 might have been on the job when the explosion occurred Sunday morning, but other officials put the count as low as 50. By nightfall they had counted five dead and more than two dozen with unspecified injuries.

Officials said they believed many workers may have fled the scene unharmed. But dealing with an unknown number of contractors and subcontractors on the project, officials on Sunday night, more than seven hours after the explosion, still had no list of names of people who were supposed to have been on the job and who might still be missing.

“It’s one thing to say we don’t know who was on the job in the morning after the incident,” the Middletown mayor, Sebastian N. Giuliano, said at his office Sunday evening. “But at this stage of the game to still be fuddling around with this is extremely frustrating.”

The accident was one of the worst in memory in this town of about 45,000 people, where church steeples and old Colonial buildings are common and industrial smokestacks are rare. About 15 miles south of Hartford, the town is home to Wesleyan University. That the accident happened on Super Bowl Sunday was only adding to the confusion, Mr. Giuliano said.

“We’re trying to figure out who was on the site today and is home now, sitting at home watching the Super Bowl, and who might be still under the rubble,” Mr. Giuliano said.

Mr. Giuliano added that it was still unclear whether all the contractors involved in the project had been contacted, efforts that might also be hampered by the game. He was unsure how many contractors were even involved, he said.

At a family assistance center set up by the Red Cross at City Hall, a handful of people came throughout the day to look for information, and more people called, but it was not the flood of people that might be expected given the uncertainty of who might have been working.

Mark Brinkerhoff, a spokesman for the Middlesex County Red Cross, said the people calling in were looking for the same thing everyone else was: a list of names.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “They’re calling the hospitals, hospitals tell them to call the police, police tell them to call the Red Cross; nobody has this information.”

The blast could be heard throughout the town and neighboring communities, breaking some windows near the site, officials said.

“It shook my whole house, and I live six and half miles from here,” said Essie Spencer, a Red Cross volunteer from Higganum, a small community south of Middletown. “We thought it was an earthquake or dynamite. It really shook. Every window in my house rattled. My dog freaked out.”

Watching the Super Bowl at a bar on Main Street in Middletown on Sunday evening, Jon Johnson, 38, said he learned of the explosion after seeing a flurry of posts on Facebook during a lunch break in Wallingford.

“The first message I saw was, ‘Don’t go to Middletown, it’s in chaos,’ ” said Mr. Johnson, who lives in Portland, across the Connecticut River from the plant. “I started asking, ‘What the heck happened?’ ”

But what confusion the blast had caused had calmed by evening. Even at the Red Cross center, volunteers were watching the game in the pauses between calls.

The release of the victims’ identities was being delayed until their relatives had been notified. The mayor said he expected that search-and-rescue efforts would continue into the morning and last as long as three days.

One victim was identified by friends and relatives as Raymond Dobratz, 57, a pipe fitter from nearby Old Saybrook, where he had also served for more than a decade on the Police Commission and the parks and recreation commission, and had been an officer with the Westbrook Elks Lodge.

“He’s a man who served the community for many, many years,” said Adam Stillman, of the Old Saybrook Democratic Town Committee. “Obviously his loss is a terrible tragedy.”

Mr. Dobratz had two adult sons and a wife who works as a nurse, said Richard Metsack, a friend who served with Mr. Dobratz on the police commission. Sometimes he would help his son with his small fishing charter business.

Mr. Dobratz had even once coached the town’s current chief of police in Little League.

“He just loved the town,” Mr. Metsack said.


July 5th, 2010, 06:22 AM
Widow Urges an End to a Deadly Construction Practice


The plea from the widow of one of six workers killed by an explosion at a Connecticut power plant in February was poignant and sincere, but also sadly familiar.

Less than a year before the explosion, in Middletown, a similar blast, in June 2009 at the ConAgra Foods Slim Jim plant in Garner, N.C., killed four workers and injured 67. A 1999 explosion at a power plant in Dearborn, Mich., killed six.

Jodi M. Thomas, the widow of Ronald J. Crabb, who was killed in the blast at the power plant in Middletown, implored lawmakers last week to do something to prevent the same deadly and seemingly predictable outcome from claiming more lives.

“I urge you to not allow Ron’s death to be in vain,” Ms. Thomas said at a special Congressional hearing held in Middletown on Monday. “Failing to make good come from this would be the biggest tragedy of all.”

Federal safety investigators said last week that the explosion in Middletown, at the construction site for Kleen Energy Systems, was only the latest example of a common industrial practice that can be deadly: clearing pipes with natural gas.

Yet despite the obvious risks, no federal regulations define how the procedure should take place.

At the hearing, John S. Bresland, a member of the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, called the lack of rules a “significant gap” that “threatens the continued safety of workers at facilities that handle flammable natural gas.”

The board urged the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue regulations to make venting natural gas outdoors safer and to prohibit the release of natural gas indoors.

The safety board investigates such incidents but cannot itself issue regulations.

“We consider these recommendations urgent because 125 gas-powered plants are planned over the next five years, including six in Connecticut,” Mr. Bresland told members of a subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee at the hearing.

The board also recommended that the National Fire Protection Association, an independent organization that sets standards adopted in many jurisdictions, require the use of “inherently safer alternatives” to flammable gas for cleaning pipes, like compressed air or nitrogen.

A spokesman for OSHA said in an interview that the agency would wait to act until its own investigation was complete; it is expected to be finished in October or later.

Construction at the Kleen Energy site has resumed. The contractor, O & G Industries, released a statement saying that it would adopt all of the safety board’s new recommendations and would require its subcontractors to do the same.

The Middletown explosion happened when pipes to the gas-fired generators were being purged of construction debris with natural gas, which was vented rapidly into a courtyard-like area that probably kept the gas from rapidly disbursing, the Chemical Safety Board found.

Safety board investigators found that about two million cubic feet of natural gas was released that day, enough to provide heating and cooking fuel to a typical American home for more than 25 years. The board determined that significantly more gas was used than what was needed to clear the pipes.

The directions workers received were uneven, the board found. Some workers were cleared from the area, but inside the main building, more than 50 kept working, only 15 of whom were involved in the purging process.

A few workers left the main building on their own when they smelled gas. All six workers who died were inside the main building, the findings said.

While the safety board said some efforts were made to clear possible ignition sources, many remained, including active welding and diesel-fueled heaters. Even the debris shooting out from the piping could have created sparks, the board found.

“I find it quite — I’m not sure what word to use — bizarre, that a company will spend millions to start a project, then use this inherently dangerous process and blow it up and kill people,” Mr. Bresland said to the committee.

State investigations into the explosion are continuing.

Alan H. Nevas, a retired Federal District Court judge who was appointed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut to lead a state commission investigating the explosion, said the contractor at the Middletown plant stood to collect a bonus if work were finished by May 31. He said the effects that such bonuses have on safety measures should be examined.

Mr. Nevas suggested that creating laws or regulations on the state level would be much quicker than waiting for the process at OSHA, which Mr. Bresland of the safety board said could take up to five years.

But the representatives on the panel said they preferred the uniformity of federal action and suggested that Congress might take up legislation.

“If we act this time, we can help ensure that the Middletown explosion is one of the last of its kind,” said Representative Rosa L. DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat.


July 6th, 2010, 08:00 AM
OK, here's the question.

Why natural gas instead of CO2 or some other gas?

I think it may just be on compressability or availability, but I do not know if there is anything else. Why would they use something they can sell for something as mundane as pipe cleaning/clearing?