Reliance power failure triggers domestic LPG crisis

Vol 6, PW 24 (12 Feb 03) Midstream & Downstream

ALARM BELLS SOUNDED in Shastri Bhawan last December when Reliance's 27m t/y refinery at Jamnagar shut down unexpectedly.

A Shastri Bhawan inspector rushed to the refinery later in the month to report on the situation. PETROWATCH learns a major power failure triggered the shutdown on 13th December, resulting in a sharp fall in the production of LPG from the Fluidised Cracking Unit, which did not return to normal for 10 days even after power was restored.

Refinery personnel had to open the reactor to get to the core of the problem and found that the "flapper valve of one of the cyclone dip legs was stuck up in the open position." More, "there was also coke around the cyclones and reactor dome." The flapper valve had to be restored to its original position and the reactor dome had to be cleaned. Only by 28th December did the refinery resume normal operations.

Shastri Bhawan's concern is not misplaced. Reliance's Jamnagar refinery produces 200,000 tonnes of LPG a month, or 32% of the country's entire LPG production of 640,000 tonnes a month.

Three quarters of the Jamnagar LPG production comes from the FCU, which, in effect, accounts for a quarter of India's LPG production! Reliance's December misfortune came soon after a planned shutdown of the refinery's Crude Distillation Unit and the Coker Unit mid-November to mid-December. As a result November LPG production was down to 159,000 tonnes while propylene (produced only from the FCU) remained steady at 55,000 tonnes.

Inspection over, government inspectors handed in their report with suggestions on how to avoid a repeat of the LPG shortage. See below.