BP oil West Glamorgan. 17th January 1981

Accident summary

On 17 January 1981 at approximately 00:07 hours operators on the plant observed an explosion followed by a fire. They immediately evacuated the area. On-site security initiated the on-site emergency procedures and called both the works fire brigade and the local authority fire brigade. Staff in a nearby control room initiated shut down procedures.

On arrival at the site the fire service set up two cooling sprays onto LPG pipelines within the plant. The deployment of additional water sprays was advised to protect unaffected pipelines (carrying kerosene, white spirit, petrol, fuel gas, high pressure steam, low pressure steam and lubricating oil) from the heat of the burning propane.

Residual propane in the plant was permitted to burn off and the severity of the fire gradually diminished. By 07:58 hours the fire was under control. Isolated pockets of oil residues continued to burn for some hours later.

Propane gas, contained in two 20 tonne storage vessels, was consumed by fire, and the area around the vessels was severely damaged.

The incident investigation believed that the release of gas occurred as the result of a damaged seal on a propane recirculating pump. Fire damage of control cables made process isolation difficult.

Fire severely damaged the de-asphalting plant and pipe work, the supporting structures and the feedstock storage tanks.

Failings in technical measures

  • An important lesson from this incident is the need to ensure that adequate maintenance management systems are in place for undertaking routine inspections, overhauls and for the recording of operating/maintenance profiles of plant and equipment particularly where the failure consequences are potentially hazardous.
  • Inspection / Non-Destructive Testing (NDT): physical inspection including intervals, logging, auditing, identification and management of safety critical systems
  • Fire damage to control cables hindered the shut down procedure.
  • Active / Passive Fire Protection: insulation thickness, fire testing of materials


'A review of high-cost chemical/petrochemical accidents since 1974', P Fewtrell and I L Hirst, Loss Prevention Bulletin, Issue no. 140, April 1998, pp3-9, Institution Of Chemical Engineers.

'Oil refinery explosion and fire', Fire Prevention, Issue no. 145, Dec 1991, p40, Fire Protection Association.

MHIDAS: Major Hazard Incident Data Service, Record Number 2858, AEA Technology PLC.

Is this page useful?