BP Refinery Explosion Prompts Shelter Order in Texas City, But No One Hurt

Residents of Texas City, Texas, were ordered to take shelter Thursday night after an explosion occurred at BP's oil refinery there.

While the blast may have been an eerie reminder of the March 23 explosions and fire that killed 15 workers and injured more than 100 at the Texas City refinery, no injuries have been reported as a result of the July 28 incident. All refinery personnel have been accounted for, BP said in a statement released the day after the explosion.

The explosion occurred around 6 p.m. on July 28 in the refinery's resid hydrotreating unit (RHU), which processes "resid," a heavy crude oil, into refined products such as gasoline.

Even though the outcomes of the March 23 blast and the July 28 incident were radically different, there were some tense moments in Texas City after the most recent incident. As firefighters dealt with the blaze, a shift in winds pushed the smoke and haze from the fire toward the city, causing city officials to issue a shelter-in-place order for residents.

"There was a thunderstorm predicted throughout the area, and as the front came in, the winds picked up," BP spokesperson Howard Miller told Occupational Hazards.com, adding that the shelter order was a precautionary measure.

When the shelter-in-place order was given, those attending a concert in Nessler Park about 2 miles from the refinery were rushed into the city's convention center, according to a report in the Galveston County Daily News.

The shelter order was lifted around 2 a.m., according to BP.

Miller said the company's air monitoring around and outside the 1,200-acre refinery's fence line "never indicated there was any concern whatsoever to the community's health and safety."

BP: No Link Between Incidents

The RHU is on the opposite end of the Texas City refinery from the isomerization unit, where the deadly March 23 blast occurred. BP spokesperson Howard Miller told Occupational Hazards.com that officials believe the two incidents were not connected.

"The two units are about a mile away from each other," Miller said. "There's no production link between the RHU and the isom unit."

It took more than 6 hours to extinguish the July 28 blaze, mainly because firefighters determined the safest approach would be to allow the residual fuel to burn off "in a controlled fashion," Miller said.

"The key was not to force the fire out," Miller said. "We wanted the fire to extinguish itself, but in a controlled fashion. We didn't want it to spread, but if you extinguish this kind of fire, the potential is it might seek another source to ignite, because of what's around it.

"The prudent thing was to manage it, contain it and ensure everyone remained safe. It proved to be a wise decision."

After the incident, the RHU was offline, although the rest of the refinery was operational, according to BP.

Noting that it's "too early to speculate" on the cause of the blast, Miller said BP is putting together an investigation team.

He also said OSHA and EPA investigators are at the scene. A two-man team from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which already is investigating the cause of the March 23 explosion, was expected to arrive today, according to CSB.

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