Iran: Refinery blast `due to sanctions and government pressure'

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, May 26 -- An explosion and fire that killed at least two people and injured 22 at Iran’s Abadan refinery came after government pressure to promote the project in the face of international sanctions against the country, according to local media reports.

Tehran’s Arman newspaper, citing unnamed officials, said the explosion and fire was at one of the refinery’s two main compressors. It said the system, used to liquefy gas, was not ready to be operated.

The newspaper quoted an official of the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Co. as saying the compressors were purchased from Munich-based Siemens AG, but that the firm—citing international sanctions—had declined to send experts to operate the machinery. Without those experts, Arman reported, Iranian personnel were in charge of operating the compressors and were under pressure to proceed despite concerns about an accident.

The explosion and fire happened during the inauguration ceremony for the new wing at the refinery, an event intended by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to underscore his country’s self-sufficiency in producing gasoline.

Ahmadinejad survived the blast and fire, but he was roundly criticized by parliamentarians for putting political purposes ahead of safety in launching the facility.

"This incident was not an act of intentional sabotage," said Hamid-Reza Katouzian, head of Iran's parliamentary energy committee. "Experts had forewarned that Abadan refinery was not ready to be inaugurated" (OGJ Online, May 24, 2011).

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com



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