Resonant accident and strange consequences

Volodymyr Martyn, Dzerkalo Tyzhnya  20 October 2012 10:49  16822894 023429
Resonant accident and strange consequences

Prosecutors finished the investigation on the resonant case of the gas accident in Uzhgorod last summer. The materials have already been sent for trial.


The investigation lasted more than a year, and its results are not surprising. It turns out that all the blame for the accident that caused the biggest gas collapse in the most western regional center of Ukraine, is put on the organization, whose employees damaged medium pressure gas pipeline. But not a slightest claim has been put forward against "Zakarpathaz" PJSC whose inadequate actions were evident within the first hours after the accident. Not surprisingly, in recent months in Uzhgorod several more gas accidents have happened...

The accident occurred on August 29 last year on Ruska street. The immediate cause of the accident is the earthworks performed by the Transcarpathian branch of "Svemon-West" JSC at the request of "Zakarpattyaoblenergo" PJSC. The contractor using a special machine intended to make a puncture under the road surface stretching from the Antonivska street to the Ruska street to replace a damaged high-voltage cable. But they had no approval of "Zakarpathaz", nor permission for operation of special machines from the State Service of Mining Supervision and Industrial Safety, nor work project.

At 15 o'clock the drill having changed its planned course, damaged medium pressure gas pipeline, making a hole of 3 to 7 cm. Then gas with hissing started to leak outside.In 15 minutes, emergency workers of "Zakarpathaz" arrived at the scene. For the next two hours by the decision of the "Zakarpathaz" for the first time since the commissioning of the pipeline two gas distribution stations (GDS) - "Uzhgorod" and "Palad-Komarivtsi" were disconnected. Then Uzhgorod and Uzhgorod district (in total 27 settlements) with 170 thousands of consumers were left without gas for up to ten days.

Thus, a small, a few square centimeters, damage to the pipe caused in Uzhgorod a bread crisis (most bakeries run on gas), a sharp increase in electricity consumption (at night the regional center was drowning in darkness due to switched off streetlights), total deficit for electric stoves and lack of basic amenities such as cooking food or taking a shower. However, even such drastic measures as complete disconnection of gas supply, did not prevent the accidents with victims. In two hours after the accident, at 17.07, in the cafe "Sheriff", adjacent to the damaged pipe, a gas-air mixture exploded, which resulted in three people receiving serious burns, one of which, a cafe worker, died on Sept. 4.

Immediately after the accident, prosecutors of Transcarpathian region instituted criminal proceedings under Art. 272 of the Criminal Code - a gross violation of safety rules during the execution of the works with increased risk. Charges were presented to employees of "Svemon-West", and their involvement in the accident is obvious. But it is unclear why the Themis turned a blind eye to the actions of "Zakarpathaz", which were clearly not adequate to the situation.

Resonant accident and strange consequences (content_06-1)

After the accident on Ruska street. Regional Department of the State Service of Mining Supervision and Industrial Safety conducted an investigation into the causes of the accident, which clearly listed errors of the gas workers. Their unprofessional actions were indicated by other sources. The main claims to "Zakarpathaz" can succinctly be described in three clauses.

1. According to internal instructions, "Zakarpathaz" is required regularly, at least once a week, perform round checks of medium pressure gas pipeline to detect unauthorized excavation, construction, etc. Special drilling machine was standing on Antonivska st. for 12 days, but the gas company emloyees would not notice it.

2. In the event of damage to the pipeline there is the "Plan of localization and liquidation of emergencies and accidents", which provides for the measures to be taken by gas workers including immediate cut off of gas supply and evacuation of people from the danger zone. If "Zakarpathaz" had adhered to the Plan, the accident with fatality would not have happened.

3. Finally, the total cutoff of gas supply to 170,000 customers for up to ten days was clearly not consistent with a small damage to the pipe. Gas company should have closed some valves and disconnected from the gas supply only a small central part of the city. The valves indeed were closed, but further disconnection of two GDS shows that they did not work. Although according to the documentation of "Zakarpathaz" the valves are operable.

DT.UA appealed to the Prosecutor of the Transcarpathian region asking if these errors of "Zakarpathaz" have been subjected to legal assessment. Here's what they said.

Prosecutors found out that the gas company had performed the round check of the pipeline. The last check was performed in the morning on 29th of August, that is the day of the accident. However, the pipeline protected area, which is checked by inspector, is within 15 meters on both sides of the pipe.While the special machine for drilling was a few dozens meters from the axis of the pipeline, ie outside the protected zone. So there are no grounds for claim to "Zakarpathaz".

With regard to the requirements of the Plan, it appears that in the Ukrainian legislation there is no such thing as a forced evacuation. After the damage to the pipe gas company checked nearby houses, warned people of the dangers and suggested they go to a safe place. Thus even before the explosion 151 families were evacuated. Gas workers also warned the visitors and the employee of the cafe of the danger and suggested them to go away. However, they ignored the warning, and the gas workers had no power to forcibly take them away from the danger zone.

Regarding the serviceability of valves. Within half an hour after the pipe damage the valves on four Uzhgorod streets were closed. According to the experts, it would have taken another 122 minutes for the remains of gas to go out of the closed system. Visually the mechanism showed that the valves were closed, but technically it is very difficult to check how tightly they blocked the pipe. According to documents of "Zakarpathaz" the valves were operable, and there no ground to suggest otherwise without expert evaluation.

Thus, during the investigation prosecutors found no grounds that would allow to press criminal charges against "Zakarpathaz".

However, in this "gas case" there are a number of circumstances that DT.UA has detected but the investigation somehow overlooked.

It is hard to believe that the inspector of "Zakarpathaz" during two rounds did not notice a bulky machine that was standing a few dozen meters from the pipeline for 12 days (it is simply impossible to overlook such special equipment). However, even if we can assume this it can not serve as excuse for the gas company. On August 27, two days before the accident, workers of "Svemon-West" in the presence of representative of "Zakarpattyaoblenergo" dug a pit within three meters from the pipeline (ie directly in the protected zone).   And if the inspector did not see this pit in the morning on August 29, he must have been just blind.     The fact that the inspector did not see the pit dug near the pipe suggests that the round check was not really performed. If it had been performed, the accident would not have happened.

In 15 minutes after the damage, at 15.15, the management of "Zakarpathaz", trying to contain the accident, ordered to close four valves. Within 15 minutes the order was executed. Remains of gas may indeed come out of the closed system, as experts noted, for another 122 minutes, but the gas pressure should have dropped significantly almost immediately after the closing. However, the pressure did not decreased at all, and gas continued to spurt out, filling the underground utilities. That's why an hour and a half after the damage, at 16.23, the management of "Zakarpathaz" decided to cut off GDS "Uzhgorod" and "Palad-Komarivtsi." The second GDS was disconnected at 17.00, and only in 1 hour 20 minutes, at 18.20, the gas pressure was finally down (although the remains of gas were still coming out of the system). The fact that after the closing of valves the pressure did not fall and "Zakarpathaz" was forced to cut off two GDS is a direct evidence of inoperability of at least one of the four valves. 

The main question of this story is whether the appropriate conclusions have been made, and whether, in the case of a new accident, everything will be repeated. DT.UA tried to ask about it some of the managers of "Zakarpathaz." However, the press service explained that the management is unable to communicate with journalists who regularly call on the same subject, and therefore the materials on last year's accident have been posted on the official website of "Zakarpathaz" JSC.

Even after several inspections of the State Service of Mining Supervision and Industrial Safety and administrative liability, "Zakarpathaz" still has not made adequate conclusions. In August this year, a year after the accident on Ruska street its employees during the repair works severed an "Ukrtelecom" international communication fiber-optic cable. As Lviv Branch of the Directorate of Primary Network "Ukrtelecom" reported, on August 22, workers of "Zakarpathaz" performed emergency works on the ring road near Uzhgorod.

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