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CEO: Hydrogen is not the 'smoking gun' in plant explosion investigation

CEO: Hydrogen is not the 'smoking gun' in plant explosion investigation

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The investigation into a hydrogen plant explosion in Long View is still ongoing nearly two weeks after it occurred. However, the CEO of the company said he would not be surprised if hydrogen was not responsible for the blast.

“In terms of cause, right now hydrogen is not the smoking gun,” OneH2 CEO and president Paul Dawson said. “There’s a high level of probability that the investigation is going to come out and hydrogen’s going to be cleared.”

He said the majority of the hydrogen at the plant was recovered following the April 7 explosion. At that time, there were between 200 and 300 kilograms of hydrogen at the plant, Dawson said. There was some hydrogen missing but Dawson attributed this to a safety mechanism in which the tanks release hydrogen to avoid explosion of the tank.

The plant in Long View is primarily used for manufacturing of equipment like hydrogen power plants, pumps and fuel trailers and not hydrogen itself, Dawson said. He described the existing manufacturing at the plant as “very benign.”

Dawson said the investigation into the cause is complicated by the age of the building and the amount of destruction from the explosion.

Regardless of whether or not hydrogen is found to be the culprit in the explosion, Dawson said the company would be undertaking an extensive review of the situation. “We’re going to go through a process of going, ‘Well, OK does it make sense for this facility to have large-scale hydrogen production?’” Dawson said. “Would it make more sense to move that somewhere else and focus on manufacturing … which is the really important bit?”

He added the company might contact the town of Long View or city of Hickory to discuss other locations suitable for large-scale hydrogen production.

Dawson said hydrogen should not be considered any riskier than other fuels.

“In terms of risk, it would be unfair to point fingers at that facility when you look at just conventional storage of natural gas, propane, gasoline around the area,” Dawson said. “I can’t see an argument that says, 'Gee, you can’t have that but you can have that.’”

In terms of helping those whose properties were damaged by the explosion, Dawson said the company had contractors going to some homes but insurance adjusters are having trouble traveling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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