View Full Version : Deadly blast rocks Major Texas Refinery,

03-23-2005, 09:28 PM
March 23, 2005, 7:57PM - Houston Chronicle

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Texas City, Texas (Just north of Galveston, Texas) A huge explosion rocked a BP oil refinery today, killing at least 14 workers and injuring more than 100, site director Don Parus said. He said search and recovery teams were still sifting through the rubble looking for bodies or survivors. A BP spokesman said that with 1,800 workers, it's "a little confusing" to account for everyone, but that's the top priority. Rescuers continue to look for survivors in the debris strewn across the plant site.

BP said the explosion, reported about 1:20 p.m., took place at a gasoline refinery's octane unit. The blast shook nearby homes, rattled windows and sent huge plumes of black smoke into the air that could be seen from Galveston to Clear Lake. Texas City residents were initially told to stay indoors, but emergency management officials lifted the order at 2:10 p.m. when the fire was brought under control. The Houston Ship Channel was briefly closed but has reopened.

The fire began in the isomer unit, which produces components used to raise the octane content of gasoline, according to Hugh Depland, BP's general manager for public affairs. Brian Rutherford, a public health planner with the Galveston County Health District, said the primary chemical involved was naptha, a solvent that can release carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide when burned. If inhaled it can cause dizziness, nausea and headaches. It also can cause skin and eye irritation, according to its Material Safety Data Sheet.

BP's Texas City complex includes 30 refinery units spread over 1,200 acres. With 460,000 barrels of crude oil processed every day, the plant provides 3 percent of the U.S. gasoline supply.

The refinery also ranks as the eighth largest polluter in the state of Texas. It released 5.1 million pounds of pollutants in 2002, according to the latest data, including some chemicals that are known carcinogens and cause other serious health effects.

Michael Martin, a 49-year-old plant operator for an electric company and life-long resident of Texas City, was at home, sleeping before going to work a night shift. The explosion, "like a sonic boom,'' shook him out of his slumber. He awoke to the house shaking and the sound of paintings crashing of the walls onto the floor.

But Martin has lived in Texas City all his life, surrounded by petrochemical plants, so even half asleep, he guessed what had happened. "This is probably my fourth or fifth one of these,'" he said. Unfortunately its part of living here, just like the fumes that get so bad in town that they burn your eyes and nose. (1)


(1) Roth Note: During the tenure of Governor Bush, he got a bill passed that allowed the refineries in Texas to be on voluntary emissions standards compliance.

Many refineries have not been inspected for years by local and State official agencies. Many explosions and fires are not even officially investigated, because the company has the right to turn State inspectors away, unless death is involved.