TPC Group Incident and the Importance of Robust Risk Management

Recently, the importance of robust risk management programs in industrial operations has been emphasized by several incidents highlighting the catastrophic consequences of neglecting safety protocols. One recent case involves TPC Group, a Texas petrochemical company, for violating the Clean Air Act.  Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a felony criminal charge, along with civil penalties totaling over $30 million. TPC Group pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act and has agreed to pay fines as well as invest approximately $80 million to improve its risk management program and safety measures at its Port Neches and Houston facilities.

The TPC Group case involves explosions that occurred at its Port Neches facility in 2019, resulting in mass evacuations, environmental damage, and significant injuries. The root cause of these explosions was traced back to a failure in the company’s risk management practices. Specifically, TPC neglected to address a critical safety concern related to the formation of a hazardous popcorn polymer within its production lines. The facility produced butadiene which is used in the production of tires, latex and plastic.  Butadiene can form a popcorn polymer that grows at an accelerating rate. This oversight, intensified by the failure to identify an out-of-service pump, created conditions that led to a catastrophic event.

The incidents at the Port Neches facility were preventable disasters resulting from TPC Group’s failure to implement necessary safety precautions. It is a reminder of the importance of prioritizing safety and adhering to regulations designed to protect both human health and the environment. The Clean Air Act mandates that facilities must have robust risk management plans in place to prevent accidental releases of hazardous chemicals. TPC Group failed to identify an out-of-service pump within the butadiene unit that caused a hazardous temporary “dead leg” allowing popcorn polymer to expand in the piping section until the piping ruptured.  The ruptured piping then released butadiene into the unit, which ignited and cause the initial explosion followed by subsequent blasts.  Overall, TPC Group neglected to implement its own operating procedures, including crucial measures that could have averted the disaster.

The TPC Group incident prompted an overhaul of safety protocols and risk management practices not only at the Port Neches facility but also at its Houston counterpart. The civil consent decree mandates extensive measures to ensure the safety of operations, including updating safety information for equipment, overhauling process hazard analysis programs, and enhancing emergency shutdown procedures.  TPC Group is now also engaging with the community, hosting meetings to educate residents about the risks associated with its facilities, sharing evacuation routes, and providing guidance on sheltering in place. These measures highlight the importance that transparency and community engagement play in fostering trust and ensuring public safety.

The TPC Group incident emphasizes the need for proactive risk management strategies and strict adherence to regulatory requirements. Facilities handling hazardous chemicals must prioritize safety at every step of their operations, from design and maintenance to emergency response planning. By investing in robust risk management programs, companies can reduce the likelihood of accidents, protect the well-being of their employees and surrounding communities, and protect the environment for future generations.

At IFO Group, we understand the importance of effective risk management in protecting personnel, communities, and the environment. We offer comprehensive Risk Management Program and Process Safety Risk Management consulting services designed to assist companies in developing and implementing robust risk management strategies. Our team of experts possesses extensive experience in assessing hazards, identifying risks, and designing tailored solutions to mitigate potential threats.

Whether your company operates in the petrochemical industry or any other sector handling hazardous materials, experts at IFO Group can help you establish a culture of safety and compliance. From conducting thorough risk assessments to developing emergency response plans and facilitating employee training, we provide support to enhance safety protocols and ensure regulatory compliance.  To request a free consultation, contact us at info@ifogroup.comr or at 832-403-2135.