Ineos Chemicals fined £400,000 after ethylene leak

19 May 2021

Ineos Chemicals Grangemouth Ltd has been fined after ethylene, a flammable gas, was released from a cracked pipe.

Ineos operates plants within the Grangemouth petrochemical complex to manufacture ethylene, ethanol, polyethylene and polypropylene. Ethane is received from the Ineos Forties Pipeline System terminal or from import by ship and is converted into ethylene and other products by thermal cracking in the KG ethylene plant. The products of the thermal cracking process are then separated and fed into other plants on the complex or distributed through the UK ethylene pipeline to other manufacturing plants in the UK.

Falkirk Sheriff Court heard that on 2 May 2017 approximately 17 tonnes of ethylene was released from the pipe. This leak precipitated the formation of a flammable gas cloud of around 65,000m³. The gas cloud was seen to move through a congested area of the plant reaching ground level.

Investigating Health and Safety Executive officers identified that the immediate cause of an unplanned shutdown on the compressor was due to a non-routine maintenance activity related to the changeover of a redundant electronic control card in the compressor anti-surge system. The line should have been designed for all potential operating conditions and should not have failed as a result of the rapid opening of the valve and the sudden inrush of hot gas.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 5(1) of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015 and s.33(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974. Fines totalled £400,000.

Regulation 5(1) of the COMAH Regulations 2015 states that: “Every operator must take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and to limit their consequences for human health and the environment.”