Shortly before 8:00 a.m. on Friday, July 29th, an explosion rocked a saltwater disposal site in Madison County, Mississippi, just outside the small town of Kearney Park. Workers were on site for W.S. Red Hancock, an oilfield construction company based in nearby Bentonia.
At least six people were injured in the blast, according to local news, suffering severe burn injuries on at least 50% of their bodies. One of the workers was burned head to toe, and two were airlifted to the nearby University of Mississippi Medical Center for emergency treatment. Others were transported to the JMS Burn Center at Merit Health Central. One of the victims made the call to the authorities, who arrived quickly and put the fire out within the hour.
Local news reported that one of the workers had been released from the hospital by July 31st; two others were expected to be released as soon as August 1st. Three of the workers, however, would most likely be hospitalized for a few weeks.
“There was a huge fireball and they were caught up in it,” Madison County Fire Coordinator Minor Norman said. “Some were critical.”
It’s not clear what caused the explosion; the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and the Oil & Gas Board were on the scene to investigate. The workers were in the process of replacing two of the four oil storage tanks with new fiberglass models on-site when the explosion happened. By the time the fire department arrived, one of the older tanks had been blown off its foundation; it was found in the woods behind the work site. “We don’t know how high it went up, but it went higher than the trees,” said Norman. The top of the second destroyed tank was never found.
The tanks, which had a capacity of 600 to 700 barrels of oil each, weren’t full. It was clear, however, that there was “some kind of petroleum product in it,” according to Norman.
W.S. Red Hancock has yet to release a statement on the explosion. The oilfield accident lawyers at Arnold & Itkin are following this incident closely.