A fire began after an explosion at the Baytown ExxonMobil Olefins plant on Wednesday around 11 a.m. Authorities say 66 people were sent to the hospital for medical evaluation after sustaining injuries during the accident. After the explosion, the fire sent large plumes of black smoke into the sky and wasn’t fully extinguished until Wednesday evening. Authorities did open a shelter-in-place order that impacted nearly 5,000 people in the area. The Texas Commission on Environment Quality was on scene monitoring the air quality, but they didn’t report any concerns. The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office is still investigating the cause of the fire.
People in the Baytown and Houston area are concerned about the recent accidents occurring at nearby refineries. On March 16, a fire erupted at a refinery in the ExxonMobil Olefins complex. Although the fire was extinguished within hours, the Harris County officials say it continued to release toxic pollutants for over a week after the accident. In the same month, a fire burned for days at the petrochemical storage facility owned by Intercontinental Terminals Company nearby Deer Park. In April, one worker died after a tank holding a flammable chemical caught on fire at a plant operated by KMCO LLC near Crosby.
ExxonMobil is Spending $2 Billion to Expand Baytown Refinery
In May ExxonMobil announced that it plans on expanding the Baytown Olefins plant and refinery near the Houston Ship Channel with a $2 billion investment. The expansion will include a new unit to make chemical compounds that are used to give plastic more elasticity. The Baytown refinery is only one of the many refineries they are expanding. This is part of it’s “Growing the Gulf” initiative that began in 2017.
The expansion of the ExxonMobil means that their personnel will also be expanding. This plant and refinery already employs nearly 7,000 workers and has the capacity to process up to 584,000 barrels of crude oil per day. With this massive expansion, the safety of their workers should be their number one priority. Since refineries handle highly volatile substances, even a small accident can trigger a major explosion.
Freddie Landry was working near the silo Wednesday when it exploded. He described the terrifying moment he and his co-workers realized the blaze had started. "The crane guys were moving a pipe for me so; we could proceed and finish our job," Landry said. "I heard a big boom. The crane went up, and the guys said it exploded. No hesitation. We all turned around and took off."
At Arnold & Itkin, our hearts go out to those who were affected by this tragedy. The plant and refinery attorneys at Arnold & Itkin will continue to closely watch this story as authorities reveal more details about the cause of this accident.