Oil Refinery Blast Rattles West Texas Town, Injures Four

A West Texas oil refinery burned for hours Feb. 18 after a massive explosion injured four workers and shook buildings and residents in an area spanning miles from the site.

According to media reports, the explosion occurred around 8:20 a.m. at the Alon USA Energy refinery in Big Spring, Texas, a town located approximately 300 miles west of Dallas. CNN reported that the explosion was so strong, it “popped some of the doors open” at a resident’s house located a couple of miles away from the refinery.

Alon USA spokesman Blake Lewis told OccupationalHazards.com that the fire caused by the blast was under control an hour after the incident was reported and that it was completely extinguished by the end of the day.

He also stated that one employee is still in the hospital with burn injuries and three contractors were released. One of them had a potential concussion and the other two expressed some concern over their hearing, leading the company to believe they were in close proximity to the source of the explosion, Lewis said. None of the injuries were life threatening, he added.

“While any injury is one too many, we were very fortunate that only one employee was hospitalized with some burn injuries,” he said.

Lewis also said that Alon USA is trying to determine and understand what caused the incident. “Company investigators are currently at the site taking observations of the damage of the facility and collecting information,” he stated, adding that the company is working to return the refinery to normal operations.

According to preliminary information, the explosion was centered around the refinery’s propylene splitter, which is located on the south side of the plant, Lewis explained. He said the investigation will take some time to complete.

Lewis stated he was not sure whether OSHA or the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) would investigate the explosion, but he said several agencies expressed interested in finding out what happened at the refinery.

“We plan to cooperate with them as they do their investigations,” he said.

Calls made to OSHA and to CSB were unreturned.

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