Chemicals group Sasol says there was an explosion that led to a fire at its troubled Lake Charles plant in Louisiana in the US.
The incident took place at the low-density polyethylene (LDPE) unit at the Lake Charles Chemicals Project (LCCP) on Monday. The fire was extinguished, and all employees and contractors were accounted for and reported safe.
The unit was in the final stages of commissioning when the explosion occurred. It has now been shut down and an investigation is underway to determine the cause of the incident, the extent of the damage, and the resulting impact on the unit.
The group gave no indication of the cost to fix the damage.
The explosion is the latest blow for Sasol’s Lake Charles plant, which has seen billions of dollars in cost overruns and led to the eventual resignation of joint CEOs Bongani Nqwababa and Stephen Cornell.
The Lake Charles project consists of a 1.5 million ton per year ethane cracker and six downstream chemical units adjacent to Sasol’s existing chemical operations.
Sasol said in a statement that aside from the LDPE, no other units were affected by the explosion.
“All other Lake Charles units and previously commissioned LCCP units, namely the ethane cracker, ethylene glycol/ethylene oxide and linear low-density polyethylene units, are unaffected and operating to plan. The ethane cracker has achieved nameplate capacity following the successful replacement of the acetylene reactor catalyst in the plant during December 2019.
“The remaining three downstream units under construction to complete the integrated LCCP site – Ziegler alcohols and alumina, alcohol ethoxylates and Guerbet alcohols – are also unaffected and remain within cost and schedule as per our previous guidance.”
The explosion is a setback for Sasol, which said in December that the plant was increasing production rates following the successful replacement of the acetylene reactor catalyst. This saw production rise from 50-60% to about 85-90%. It did not say by how much this week’s incident affected production.
An investigation into the construction delays at LCCP found serious underperformance. Aside from the departure of Nqwababa and Cornell, the senior executives running the project were replaced and anyone involved with it had to forfeit their bonuses.