Just a little over a month ago, an explosion rocked the Eastman Chemical Co. coal gasification facility in Kingsport, TN., on October 4.
While there were no serious injuries or impact on the environment in the incident, the facility ended up shut down until further notice.
It now appears production could start back up sooner than expected.
“Eastman has been exploring a number of alternative means to replace lost production capacity related to the incident that occurred in coal gasification on Oct. 4,” Eastman spokesman Brad Lifford said in a published report. “Eastman has reached an agreement with BAE Systems and the Army to allow Eastman to operate assets adjacent to Eastman’s Kingsport site. The adjacent area is commonly known as ‘Area A.’
“We are leveraging our existing Eastman team and redeploying Eastman experts as needed, and increasing our engagement with existing and new contract firms to safely and quickly make the Area A facility operable,” he said
Eastman also has fabricated 3,000 feet of pipe that was placed along a new path to service the coal gasification production area, according to an internal company document. Eastman’s maintenance team recruited welders from within the plant to lend expertise. As soon as the request was issued across the site, 10 certified welders volunteered to come over to the project. The line was operable on Tuesday, October 10. Eastman called it a “miracle effort.”
All Eastman previously disclosed publicly is what the company said in its third quarter earnings/revenues report: “Due to the unique advantages of our scale and integration, the company has made excellent progress in repairing the (coal gasification) facility and implemented alternate processes to maintain operations of downstream derivative facilities of coal gasification. We expect the coal gasification area to be operable by the end of fourth quarter 2017. This, along with our mitigating actions, is expected to enable full production of acetyl chemicals and derivatives. Normal operations are expected to resume in early 2018. While the company continues to assess the financial impact of the incident, the net impact is expected to reduce operating earnings by between $50 and $100 million. Costs in fourth quarter 2017 related to the incident are expected to be approximately $100 million, partially offset by insurance recovery expected in first half 2018.”
October 4 is an important date for Eastman Chemical as the company suffered a tragic explosion that killed 16 people in 1960.
David Golden, Eastman senior vice president, chief legal and sustainability officer and corporate secretary, called it a “terrible coincidence.”
“October 4 doesn’t pass at Eastman. … We feel deeply and remember the events of October 4, 1960,” Golden said during a late afternoon media briefing just after the latest event. “As part of our legacy, we have worked hard to improve our process safety so that never, ever happens again. Today is just a stark reminder of the importance of process safety … the importance of quick evaluations and air monitoring. I would say those secondary systems worked well today.”
Coal gasification has made up a big part of Eastman’s acetyl stream, producing chemicals used to make various products, from pain relievers to photographic film.
When it first came online, the operation gasified about 900 tons of coal a day, supplying about half of Eastman’s acetyl needs through coal. The other half was still being produced from petroleum-related materials.
Then, in 1991, the chemical end of the plant was expanded, and Eastman improved the efficiency of the gasifier and gas clean-up plants to produce 100 percent of the acetyl needs for the Kingsport site.
And while coal is traditionally viewed as a dirty material, coal gasification is known as a “clean coal” process that’s environmental friendly. Company officials said gasification removes harmful pollutants, including nearly 100 percent of sulfur, mercury and arsenic. Plus, gasification produces low air emissions, as well as low levels of collateral solid wastes and wastewater, and provides efficiencies for reducing carbon dioxide, along with low-cost carbon storage options.