Unipetrol declares force majeure at Czech ethylene plant

Unipetrol AS has shuttered production at its Chempark Zaluzi petrochemical complex in Litvinov, Czech Republic, following an explosion and ensuing fire at the site’s 544,000-tonne/year (tpy) ethylene plant.

The explosion, which occurred around 9:00 a.m. local time on Aug. 13 following a propylene leak at the plant’s steam cracker, was followed by fires in two separate parts of the unit, the second of which broke out after the cracker’s emergency shutdown, Unipetrol said.

Unipetrol has stopped production of all petrochemicals at the complex, with the plant’s steam cracker, polypropylene unit, and two polyethylene units to remain offline until further notice, the company said on Aug. 14.

As a precautionary measure, production at the complex’s ammonia unit also has been reduced to a minimum, as have crude throughputs at Unipetrol subsidiary Ceska Rafinerska AS’s (CRC) nearby 5.4 million-tpy Litvinov refinery, which acts as key supplier of naphtha feedstock for the cracker.

Given the current uncertainty surrounding a timeframe for the plant’s restart, Unipetrol has declared a force majeure on its petrochemical production supply agreements with customers.

The Litvinov steam cracker recently experienced two unplanned shutdowns that resulted from unidentified technical difficulties, according to June 30 and July 17 releases from Unipetrol.

A first shutdown lasted from June 29 to July 5, with a second closure occurring from July 20 to July 25, the company said.

Unipetrol, itself a subsidiary of Polski Koncern Naftowy SA (PKN Orlen), completed its purchase of former partner Eni SPA’s interest in CRC to become sole owner of the company, which in addition to the Litvinov refinery, also operates the 3.3 million-tpy Kralupy refinery (OGJ Online, May 4, 2015; Dec. 22, 2014).

Unipetrol’s buyout follows the company’s overall strategy for 2013-17, which calls for an increase in capital spending on projects designed to further integrate the refining and petrochemical segments of its business as a means of guaranteeing secure feedstock for its petrochemical operations (OGJ Online, July 3, 2014).

Current capital projects

On July 23, Unipetrol told investors that CRC has undertaken a project to modernize the Litvinov refinery’s hydrocracker, with commissioning of the unit scheduled for some time during 2016.

In the petrochemical segment, the company said it plans to continue work during second-half 2015 on two major projects at the Chempark Zaluzi complex, including a revamp of the complex’s T700 on site power plant as well as a reconstruction of the steam cracker’s pyrolysis furnace BA-102.

A timeframe for completion of the petrochemical projects was not disclosed.

Contact Robert Brelsford at rbrelsford@ogjonline.com.

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