Petrobras Brazil refinery blast injures three workers

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 19, 2015 9:25 AM

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Three workers were seriously hurt in an explosion on Sunday at Petrobras' 323,000-barrel-a-day Landulpho Alves Refinery (RLAM) outside Salvador, Brazil, the second serious accident at Brazil's second-largest refinery in a week.

Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as state-run Petrobras is formally known, declined in a Monday response to questions to say if oil processing or fuel output at the plant was affected by the accident. The company said the accident will not affect fuel supplies to Brazilian consumers.

The explosion occurred in the U-38 hydrogen generation unit. The unit has no production directly related to it according to Thomson Reuters refinery data.

The injured workers suffered burns to between 10 and 75 percent of their bodies and are being treated at a hospital, the union said in a statement.

The accident revives safety concerns at Petrobras' 14 Brazilian refineries which have been operating near full capacity to meet domestic demand that has grown faster than its ability to supply it.

While a nearly 50 percent drop in crude prices since June means that Petrobras is no longer losing money on gasoline and diesel imports, the company may still not be able to shut units and perform upgrades, union officials said.

A recent price-fixing, bribery and political kickback scandal has cut Petrobras out of capital markets and led the company to stop paying for or working with some of the country's most important construction and engineering firms. Many of those firms are the same ones which build, expand and repair Petrobras refineries.

"Thousands of contract workers at the refineries are being laid off and work is shutting down," said Simão Zanardi, head of legal and institutional affairs for FUP, Brazil's national oil workers' federation.

"It is our feeling that most of Petrobras' refineries are not operating as safely as they should be."

The injured workers at RLAM were using an electric rotary sander on the inside of a hydrogen tank that had been drained on Thursday and where workers had already done the same work without incident, Zanardi said.

"We don't know how explosive gasses got into the sphere," he added.

On Wednesday RLAM suffered a fire in its paraffin unit after a faulty valve at the plant, Petrobras' oldest, leaked kerosene. No one was injured in that event.

Petrobras shares were down 1.7 percent at 9.28 reais in Sao Paulo.

(Reporting by Jeb Blount; Editing by James Dalgleish, Nick Zieminski and Alden Bentley)