Guam Tanker Fires Linked To Static
ESD Journal Editor's Comments:
Air flow by itself does not cause static charging to any significant
degree. The particulate materials in the strong wind such as sand
could have caused the static charges. The motion of the lid on the
tank could have caused the static charges. Regardless of the exact
method, the wind played an important roll in this static explosion.
HAGATNA, Guam - A buildup of
static electricity may be the cause of the fire at the commercial
port tank farm in Piti that erupted when Supertyphoon Pongsona pounded
the island in December of last year.
The fire started at the Mobil tank
facility when two tanks, one with gasoline and the other with jet
fuel, caught fire. Guam Fire Chief Felix Sablan said oil officials
have told him a full tank of fuel could take four days to burn out.
Static electricity may have occurred
inside the tank due to friction caused by extremely high winds rushing
through the ventilation system, according to Guam Fire Department
Capt. Darren Apiag.
The fire burned for six days, and consumed
four of the petroleum company's fuel storage tanks and caused officials
to shut down gasoline sales to the public. Roads were nearly deserted
until officials lifted the restriction on Dec. 15. After the restriction
was lifted long lines formed at service stations all over the island
as residents waited to buy gasoline.
Apiag said the tank that first caught
fire contained less than 15 percent of its total capacity of unleaded
gasoline when the fire erupted. That situation, he explained, is
considered to be unsafe in adverse weather conditions due to the
high accumulation of gasoline vapors inside the tank.
said according to Mobil officials, the tank was previously damaged
in July, during typhoons Chata'an and Halong. The tankís side walls
were damaged, preventing the free-floating internal roof from moving
no more than seven feet from the bottom of the tank.
"Therefore preventing the tank
from being filled with product or water," Apiag said. "This
is a safety practice during adverse weather conditions."
Based on the high volume and speed
of air travel within the tank, it is likely unacceptable levels
of static electricity may have built up and eventually ignited the
fuel vapors within the tank, Apiag said. The explosion sent the
tank's lid airborne, and it landed more than six hundred feet northeast
of the tank, Apiag said.
Cecile Bamba Suda, public relations
and government affairs manager for Mobil Oil Guam Inc., issued the
following statement: "Mobil is currently assessing the preliminary
report, as well as other information. As such, we believe it (is)
inappropriate and premature to comment on any statements."
"Mobil has conducted an investigation
into the fire, which will form part of a broader review of the impact
of Supertyphoon Pongsona on all of Mobil operations on Guam,"
Suda said. She also stated that the investigation is ongoing and
could not say when it will be completed.
Company officials have received a part
of the fire departmentís report, Suda said.
"We are currently reviewing the
preliminary report," Suda said. "We appreciate the input
of GFD and we will give it appropriate weight in our own investigation."
"Safety procedures are in place
at the terminal. Mobil is committed to safe, responsible operations,"
Suda said. "We will continue to work closely with GFD in relation
to fire ... response."
Paraphrased by Steve Waldrop
February 20, 2003