Catastrophic rupture of dead-leg pipe-work.

Catastrophic rupture of dead-leg pipe-work.


Incident details

A recent failure on a UK refinery involved an 8" diameter vertical relief line, approximately 5m in length, which catastrophically failed during normal operation part way along its length, releasing approximately 75 tonnes of extremely flammable material at elevated temperature and pressure. Connected to an insulated process header and vessels, the failure involved complete separation of the relief line (which was not insulated).

Subsequent examination of the line revealed excessive internal thinning which was very local to the failure point, but relatively normal wall thickness elsewhere along its length. The inspection regime included regular thickness testing at four locations, but not at the area local to the failure. Notably, an adjacent relief line was also found to have very similar localised and severe internal corrosion, which had also gone undetected.

The incident is similar in nature, and on related plant, to an incident in 2003 at another UK oil refinery. In that instance, internal corrosion resulted in thinning along a horizontal section of a relief line, which again went undetected and resulted in catastrophic failure. Liquid partially filling the line resulted in a particularly aggressive interface, whilst condensation local to pipe supports was also a factor. In this and the recent incident, harm was avoided because personnel weren't in the vicinity, and escalation was avoided because the resulting vapour cloud dispersed before finding a source of ignition.

Actions Required

Operators of process plant should ensure that their pipework examination regime takes account of dead-legs, and in particular that:

  • Dead-legs are eliminated wherever possible, and minimised thereafter;
  • The risk assessment and associated examination regime takes account of conditions which may be peculiar to dead-legs, including thermal gradients, interfaces, solid/corrosion deposits, condensation points etc., and that the frequency of examination and level of scrutiny reflects potentially aggressive and localised deterioration. Where there is additional environmental threat, an absence of secondary/tertiary containment should influence the risk assessment.
  • The integrity regime should monitor pipework wall thickness so that localised deterioration is captured, checks are undertaken with sufficient frequency, and repair or retirement and replacement is undertaken in good time;
  • Process lines which are redundant but retained for future use are left in a safe state, and thoroughly checked for integrity before being reinstated.


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