Baker & O'Brien, Inc.

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Compressor Station Failure – Flawed Design or Inadequate Operations and Maintenance Practices?

Litigation, North America

April 1, 2018

Natural gas compressor stations are typically provided by specialist contractors who, after working with the owner/operator to determine the operating parameters and process requirements, offer turnkey design and construction solutions.  Compressors, normally purchased by the contractor from owner-approved original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), are integral to the design of the compressor station.  Once the compressor station is placed in service, operations and maintenance activities are usually performed by the owner or by a subcontractor. 

Approximately two years after a new compressor station was placed in service, one of the compressors experienced a failure that resulted in a fire and damage to the compressor and nearby equipment.  The investigation determined that the failure of bolts on the compressor housing resulted in a release of hydrocarbons that, subsequently, found an ignition source.  There followed a dispute over the amount of economic damages and liability, i.e., whether the bolt failure was the result of a flawed equipment design or inadequate operations and maintenance practices. 

Baker & O’Brien was retained to review the compressor station design and OEM-recommended operations and maintenance practices and to compare them to the owner/operator practices to determine if these practices contributed to, or caused the incident.  Additionally, our assessment included:  (1) reviewing the overall design and operating conditions developed by the contractor; and (2) conducting a site visit to the compressor station and attending the disassembly of compressors at the contractor’s facility.