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Investigation finds Delaware City refinery fire was preventable

Delaware Public Media

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board released findings Thursday from its investigation into a 2015 flash fire at the Delaware City Refinery Company that injured one worker.


The CSB concluded the fire could have been prevented if the refinery had been more proactive in identifying hazards before employees perform maintenance.


CSB chairperson Vanessa Sutherland said maintenance is one of the leading causes of injury when working with chemicals.


“More than ? of the incidents investigated by the CSB occurred prior to, during or immediately following maintenance activities,” she said. 


A night operator at the refinery suffered severe burns on his face, neck and wrists as the result of the flash fire.

He opened a leaky valve that was being used to isolate two pieces of equipment undergoing maintenance.


“Shortly after opening the drain valve to the refinery’s sewer system he recalled hearing a pop and seeing a wall of fire advancing towards him,” said CSB Supervisory Investigator Johnnie Banks.


He said the worker had unknowingly released a backflow of gas that ignited in a nearby furnace and resulted in the wall of fire.


The CSB isn’t an enforcement agency and doesn’t have any regulatory power. But it did make a handful of recommendations to prevent future accidents.


Since the fire, the Delaware City Refinery Company has developed procedures to ensure hazards are identified and mitigated before employees perform maintenance.


"We openly shared details of the actions taken by the refinery with CSB representatives and our workforce, and are distributing the CSB’s “Safety Bulletin” to our employees, to further reinforce our continuing commitment to safety, reliability, and regulatory compliance," the refinery's parent company, PBF Energy, said in an email.