The city of Baytown, just 25 miles east of Houston, Texas, was enjoying a peaceful night in the early morning hours of Thursday, December 23rd, when the sound of an explosion rippled through the neighborhood.
At around 1:00 am local time, deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office responded to an incident at the ExxonMobil oil refinery in Baytown. Nearby residents reported feeling and hearing the explosion, one person saying, “I thought maybe it was a bomb or an earthquake.”
A fire at the refinery suggested that the explosion occurred inside the plant; the flames burned the part of the facility that makes gasoline. As the sun rose, teams were still working to extinguish the fire, and “ExxonMobil had begun conducting air quality monitoring at the site and fence line,” according to Julie King, a spokeswoman for the company.
Although he called this incident a “major industrial accident,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez confirmed that, for now, residents would not need to evacuate or shelter in place due to the explosion.
Four people were taken to nearby hospitals; three were airlifted by Life Flight, an air ambulance service, and one was transported by ambulance.
This is not the first time the city of Baytown has been shaken by an accident at the ExxonMobil facility, which is the second largest refinery in the United States. Two separate explosion and fire incidents, much like this one, broke out in 2019 alone, on the 100th anniversary of the complex’s founding. The July 2019 incident caused the Sheriff’s Office to issue a precautionary shelter-in-place order that affected 5,000 people, with 66 ExxonMobil employees and contractors requiring medical attention. The March 2019 fire was extinguished quickly, but the refinery continued to release toxic pollutants into the air for 8 days. A third accident, in early 2020, left one contractor dead.
In response to these accidents, Harris County has previously sued ExxonMobil for violating the federal Clean Air Act.
Oil refineries can be dangerous, especially when companies do not take the proper precautions to ensure they are operated safely. Our plant explosion attorneys are following this story closely and wish the injured workers a speedy recovery. Our hearts go out to the injured as well as the community this accident has affected.