Baker & O'Brien, Inc.

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Petroleum Coke Pit Retaining Wall Collapse

Litigation, North America

August 1, 2018

Crude oil is a mixture of many hydrocarbons that are separated and processed at refineries to manufacture various petroleum products.  These hydrocarbons range from light gases to heavy residues and, finally, solids.  A refinery coker unit processes heavy residues into more valuable products.  A byproduct of a coker is solid petroleum coke, which is frequently used as a fuel in cement kilns and power plants.  Petroleum coke, after being cut from the process vessel by the use of high-pressure water jets, is typically stored in a large pit or walled area in order to enable the water to drain.  Once the coke is adequately dry, it is ready for sale.

A 30-foot high retaining wall of a coke pit suddenly collapsed at a refinery, flooding petroleum coke and water into the surrounding property.  Fortunately, no individuals were injured in the incident, but the company suffered significant property damage and business interruption.  The collapse of the coke pit wall eventually became a point of contention in a larger dispute.  Baker & O’Brien was engaged in this case to review:  (1) the civil, structural, and process safety engineering designs to determine if the coke pit was fit-for-service; and (2) if the actual operating conditions at the time of the collapse were within the design parameters.  Our consultants conducted a technical review of the civil and structural design drawings and calculations of the pit walls and the execution of the design to determine whether proper engineering practices and codes were incorporated.  Additionally, we investigated the process safety management procedures and practices of both the construction project and the actual operation.

Baker & O’Brien prepared a written report and participated in depositions.