One of Egypt's major refineries has been engulfed in a massive fire, with eyewitness reports that little is being done to suppress the fatal blaze.
The Nasr refinery nestling between the bustling city of Suez and the Suez Canal has been on fire since Saturday afternoon, according to several reports, shrouding the local area in thick black smoke. Civilian and military emergency forces have been deployed by at the time of wrirting seem unable to quell the blaze.
Reports of casualties vary. Earlier reports state that the fire has claimed the life of one refinery worker and injured fourteen, while Chinese newswire Xinhua - reporting sources at the scene - is reporting four dead and 22 injured, many of whom are reported to be in a critical condition.
Eyewitnesses report a series of loud explosions followed by a fireball from one of the refinery's storage tanks started the blaze.The cause of the fire is not known. Some workers at the refinery told the Egypt Independent that they saw a car burning shortly before the explosion of the first butane tank at the site.
The refinery has a capacity of 146,300 barrels of oil a day (bpd), and is the oldest in both Egypt and Africa, with a refinery on the site since 1913. It is owned by the Egyptian government through its Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) and operated by its subsidiary, the Suez El Nasr Petroleum Company. The refinery was due to be upgraded with a larger hydrocracker to enabled middle distillate production, with EU and US funding, having last been upgraded in the early 1970s.
The fire at Nasr -which processes up to 40% of Egypt's fuel for domestic consumption - comes at a time when Egyptians arealready labouring under petrol shortages.
El Nasr has a storage capacity of 100,000 barrels of oil, and without intervention is likely to burn for several days. Egyptians in the area have taken to Twitter to document the fire and voice concerns that the fire may spread to gas storage tanks and another refinery.
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(Originally published April 15, 2012, on ArabianOilandGas.com.)