Third man dies following UK power plant explosion

The explosion at Enron’s Teeside CCGT power plant yesterday has claimed a third life. A plant worker died this morning having being admitted to Middlesbrough General Hospital with severe burns following the blast and fire.

An investigation is underway into the cause of the explosion, which has led to the shutdown of the Enron operated plant at Wilton in the northeast of England. The UK Health and Safety Executive together with Enron officials will be involved in an inquiry and Enron said in a statement today that it would be several days before a decision is taken regarding the plant’s future operation.

Two men died in the incident yesterday and another remains in hospital in a stable condition.

Enron CEO, Jeff Skilling, flies into the UK today in response to the incident and Tim Underwood, Enron’s Chief Executive of Power Operations said that a team had been assembled to help those affected.

The explosion occurred while two gas turbines were offline for maintenance. Local police said it had occurred close to a transformer but was confined to a small area of the industrial site. Police are treating the event as an industrial accident.

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said an explosion had occurred in a transformer during switching operations. HSE is an independent body with the power to bring prosecutions should its enquiry show negligence. The HSE inspection will seek to determine the cause of the accident and if it was in any way foreseeable. The inspection will look into issues such as equipment failure, human error and flawed procedures.

“The HSE can issue prohibition orders requiring modification to, or suspension of, certain work which could affect when plant restarts power production”, said the spokesman.

The power station is owned by Teesside Power Limited, a consortium made up of several UK electricity companies along with US power group Enron. Enron Power Operation is the plant’s operator. It was built on a record breaking schedule, beginning commercial operations in April 1993 just 29 months after work began on the site.

Paul Joyce, Cleveland fire brigade senior divisional officer, said further damage was prevented by fixed installation protection, which emits water or foam in emergencies. Ten fire engines attended the scene along with more than 30 firefighters. The power plant is located along side a large site occupied by a number of petrochemical companies. Despite their proximity, these other industries were unaffected by the accident.

There are unconfirmed reports that a gas cylinder may have been involved in the explosion.

The Teeside plant produces 1875 MW from eight Westinghouse 701 DA gas turbines and associated heat recovery steam generators and two steam turbine generators. At the time it was built, the station’s capacity made it the world’s largest privately owned combined heat and power plant.

Analysts of power flows to the UK national grid indicated that the plant was producing 800-900 MW at the time of the accident. Although this is well below full capacity, the plant was still accounting for three per cent of current UK national demand.

News of the plant’s closure led to a four per cent rise in British wholesale electricity prices, traders said.

Enron processes North Sea gas at the plant. It produces electricity for the national grid and steam for surrounding industry.

The explosion is the third at the plant since it was built. Following concerns raised by the HSE about the safety of gas turbine enclosures and an explosion at the plant in July 1996 in which an operator was injured, Enron commissioned Eutech Engineering Solutions Limited to carry out a study of the explosion potential inside Teesside’s gas turbine enclosures. The report recommended solutions to achieve an acceptable level of risk.

Enron will make an updated statement concerning the incident at Teesside later today.

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