Canadian resin plants that were hit by the Aug. 14 blackout emerged relatively unscathed, due in part to an April blackout that hit the Sarnia Valley region in Ontario.
``It's not experience you want to gain,'' said Martin Bruce, site manager for Nova Chemical Corp.'s two polyethylene plants in the area, called the Moore Township and St. Clair River plants. ``But it was the second time that we had been through it and that probably helped us know what to do.''
Pittsburgh-based Nova operates a 750 million-pound-capacity PE plant in Moore Township and a 600 million-pound site in St. Clair River. The company's monomer production sites in Corunna and Sarnia - as well as a 70 million-pound-per-year expanded polystyrene plant in Painesville, Ohio - also were out of commission temporarily.
In April, the region lost power for a 10-hour period that cost Nova two to three days of resin production and four to five days of monomer production. The Aug. 14 blackout was more intense, as full power was not restored to the area until Aug. 22. Nova began ramping up its plants Aug. 23 and completed the process Aug. 26.
Along the way, the situation went as well as could be expected at Moore Township and St. Clair River. All shut-down systems designed to deal with release valves and emergency dump valves opened into a flare stack as they're designed to do, said Bruce, who has worked at the sites for five years.
``Usually in a power failure, the worry is that you'll lose steam, which is used to make flares smokeless,'' he said. ``Hydrocarbon burns, but not cleanly.''
Amazingly, Nova also was able to depressurize its reactors at the sites from 30,000 pounds of pressure per square inch to 3,000 pounds in about 45 seconds.
Nova avoided the notorious ``big pellet'' of hardened resin that often occurs during unplanned power losses. Such pellets can weigh as much as 15 tons. The Nova sites had installed what Bruce referred to as ``patches'' in their production systems to avoid just such an event.
Nova's supply situation was tight because of the lost production - and because a month-long, planned maintenance turnaround just had ended in late June - but most customers' orders were met, Bruce said. The total effect on Nova's third-quarter profit from the event was estimated at $10 million by company officials.
Some equipment at Nova's ethylene cracker suffered minor damage, but for the most part the biggest inconvenience at Moore Township and St. Clair River consisted of cleaning out the resin-producing equipment to avoid gel contamination.
Orderly processes also prevented larger problems at Canadian sites operated by Dow Chemical Co. and Basell Polyolefins.
Dow's Sarnia plant, which produces PS, polyurethane and epoxy, reported no damage or injuries, according to spokeswoman Leslie Hatfield.
At Basell's 200 million-pound polypropylene plant in Varennes, Quebec, operators ``had no problems bringing [the plant] down to a safe state,'' spokeswoman Michelle Talmo said.
Nova's expanded PS plant in Painesville, Ohio, didn't have the advantage of an April practice run, but still came out of the blackout in good shape, according to site manager David Phillips.
``We lost 11 days of production, but once we restarted, we were producing [commercial-grade] material within 36 hours,'' Phillips said. ``We had some material harden on us, but we followed procedures and got back to a safe condition as soon as we could.''
The Painesville site also was able to draw on inventories to meet orders.