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 Occupational Hazards 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 was still in the hospital a day after the explosion 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.

Alon USA, Lewis said, is trying to determine and understand what caused the incident. 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.

OSHA and Alon USA continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the blast in the hopes of pinpointing a cause.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board told Occupational Hazards the agency staff is currently committed to investigating the Imperial Sugar Co. refinery explosion in Port Wentworth, Ga., and didn't have additional resources to investigate this incident. Meanwhile, an eleventh worker critically injured in the sugar refinery explosion has died and 14 remain hospitalized, 12 of them in critical condition.

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