A pipe failure was the cause of a fire that broke out on May 17 at Sunoco’s Marcus Hook Refinery’s etyhlene plant. The pipe, which released ethylene gas that caught fire, was corroded from moisture. The corrosion is believed to have occurred over several years, and resulted from unseen moisture that collected between the bottom of the pipe and a loose steel support on which it rested. The rest of the pipe showed no indication of corrosion.
Both the independent investigations that were carried out by the company and the Delaware State Fire Marshal, arrived at the same decision. Delaware State Fire Marshal said that gas leaking from the pipe was ignited by high temperatures from nearby equipment, causing the fire and explosion.
In July 2009, the company arrived at a decision to permanently shut the ethylene complex as the current trend in demand for ethylene, ethylene oxide and cyclohexane from the plant doesn’t justify repairing or replacing equipment.