Blast, fire hit Bangchak refinery
Sukhumbhand wants oil, arms facilities out of city
A huge explosion followed by a raging fire hit a refinery owned by Bangchak Petroleum Plc early Wednesday morning, sending thick plumes of black smoke billowing up into Bangkok's skyline.
Explosions could be heard periodically before firefighters managed to bring the blaze under control.
People were evacuated from nearby homes and offices. Schools in the vicinity were also closed.
Nobody was hurt, however.
The blaze broke out at the No.3 crude unit. The plant, among the largest in the country, was operating at 105,000 barrels of oil a day before the blast.
The No.3 unit was closed for maintenance in June and resumed operations two weeks ago.
About 10,000 communities are located around the Bangchak oil refinery and depot on Sukhumvit Soi 64.
In January last year, the same refinery caught fire _ thought to have been caused by a hydrogen leak.
Following the explosion City Hall is looking to relocate oil refineries and arms depots out of the capital.
Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra said he will meet all agencies involved to discuss the possibility of moving all oil refineries and arms depots away from Bangkok.
Speaking during an inspection of communities surrounding the refinery yesterday, MR Sukhumbhand said several oil refineries and arms depots are located near densely populated communities.
Similar explosions near crowded areas could cause substantial loss of life and damage to property, he said.
MR Sukhumbhand said the incident served as a lesson for all concerned to understand the importance of disaster prevention measures and disaster response management.
The governor said the slow response to the explosion and the incident being underestimated by the agencies concerned led to panic among residents living nearby.
He said Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) fire and rescue department officials will go to surrounding communities to watch for any impacts from the explosion and fire. Health department officials will be sent to check air quality in the area and examine the health of people affected by smoke from the blaze.
Industry Minister MR Pongsvas Svasti yesterday ordered the Bangchak oil refinery to suspend operations for 30 days pending an investigation to determine the cause of the blast.
MR Pongsvas said an accident like this should never have happened. The only positive thing was that all safety systems had functioned properly.
"What needs to be done next is to monitor environmental impacts from the spread of smoke. It will be the duty of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry," MR Pongsvas said.
The minister said he has assigned the Department of Industrial Works to conduct stress tests to prevent similar industrial accidents.
He said the Industry Ministry will ensure that factories are located in industrial estates at least 100-200 meters from communities. In the long term, the Bangchak refinery should be moved away from crowded communities to an industrial estate to ease pollution control.
But he said relocating the refinery would be a huge task and the Industry Ministry would have to consult with the Energy Ministry before taking action.
Energy Minister Arak Chonlatanon said the proposed relocation, demanded by environmentalists, could cost more than 100 billion baht which would be reflected in retail oil prices.
"The oil refinery came here 50 years ago when the area was still remote, far from the metropolis. Over time, however, communities have moved in and surrounded it," Mr Arak said.
He noted that Bangchak has maintained good relations with residents and the Energy Ministry had received no complaints about the company.
Bangchak Petroleum president Anusorn Sangnimnuan said the blaze caused an estimated 600 million baht in damage, including impacts from business interruption and lost sales. Dhipaya Insurance will compensate the losses.
Bangchak has been the only oil refinery located in the heart of Bangkok for 50 years, supplying fuel to motorists in the city and the vicinity.
Mr Anusorn said the company's oil supply of 5 million barrels in Samut Sakhon, Ayutthaya and Surat Thani will suffice for the next two months.
Thailand uses an average of 800,000 barrels a day at its six oil refineries.
Worasart Apaipong, deputy director-general of the Pollution Control Department, confirmed that air quality has been unaffected by the refinery blast and blaze. Its air quality measuring station had found that volatile organic compound emissions have not exceeded the safety standard.
After the explosion, the level of particles measured by Bangchak's own air quality measuring station was 71 micrograms per cubic meter compared to the 120-microgram safety standard.
Sulphur dioxide was at five parts per billion (ppb) per hour compared to the safety standard of 120ppb, and nitrogen dioxide at 108ppb per hour against the safety standard of 170ppb.
"Our team will collect air samples during the next 24 hours. We will closely monitor the level of ozone, which might be increasing at the site. But right now, nothing is higher than the safety standard," he said.
The department also collected water samples from Chao Phraya River near the refinery but found no trace of oil leakage or unusual pollution levels.
By Supoj Wancharoen, Yuthana Praiwan & Apinya Wipatayotin
05 July 2012