One dead, 21 injured in Austrian gas hub explosion

Article by Helen Tunnicliffe

ONE person has been killed and 21 are injured after a huge explosion and fire at the Baumgarten Natural Gas Hub in eastern Austria, one of Europe’s most important gas import and distribution plants.

The explosion happened at around 09:00 local time on 12 December, and caused a “serious” fire. Gas Connect Austria, which runs the site, said in a statement that the fire was contained into several smaller fires. The plant was shut down in a controlled manner and the natural gas supply was secured. At 14:33 the company announced that all fires had been extinguished. The 21 injured workers received immediate medical attention. Media reports suggest that none is in a critical condition.

The company expressed its “deepest sympathy” to the family of the dead man, also Austrian, who has not been named, and pledged to support them. It also praised the efforts of the 250 firefighters and 40 rescue workers who attended the scene.

According to local media reports, cars in the car park were melted by the heat of the fire, while 14 fire engines, 10 ambulances and a rescue helicopter attended the scene.

A crisis team is onsite. The circumstances surrounding the accident and the cause of the explosion are at present unknown but Gas Connect Austria says that it assuming it was a technical fault. Police investigations are underway and the company says it is “doing everything possible” to assist. It has also begun its own investigation.

The Baumgarten facility is Austria’s largest gas hub. It handles around 40bn m3 of gas every year, including imports from Russia and Norway. Incoming gas is cleaned, filtered, compressed, cooled and dehydrated before being sent to countries all over Europe.

Gas Connect Austria says that Austrian gas supplies are secure for the time being but transit through Austria to the south and southeast will be hindered “until further notice”. Italy has already declared a state of emergency on energy supplies, according to Reuters, and gas prices across the continent are soaring. In Italy the gas price is up by 97% while in the UK, it has risen by 35%.

Energy prices in Europe are also being hit by the closure of the Forties pipeline for emergency repairs. A routine inspection by INEOS contractors found a hairline crack in the pipe south of Aberdeen. It is not clear how long repairs will take. Colder-than-normal weather in the west of Europe is also pushing up demand.

Article by Helen Tunnicliffe

Senior reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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