Four people were injured in an explosion and fire at ExxonMobil’s Baytown Olefins Plant on Thursday morning, December 23, 2021. The fire at Houston-area refinery was extinguished after several hours. There were no fatalities, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Video from the scene at the Baytown facility showed flames and smoke emerging from the complex. The blast occurred after a “major industrial accident,” officials said.
“There have been 4 confirmed injuries, 3 of which were life flighted and 1 was taken to the hospital via ambulance. No fatalities have been reported. There is currently no shelter in place,” the sheriff’s office tweeted. The incident happened about 1 a.m. at the 3525 Decker Drive plant in Baytown.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez added, “Information is preliminary at this time: initial reports indicated some type of explosion occurred inside the plant. LifeFlight is responding. … For now, no reports to evacuate or shelter-in-place. Four persons may be injured; three taken by Lifeflight and one by ambulance.”
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The Victims Were Hospitalized With Burns & a Broken Femur
ExxonMobil Baytown Area tweeted, “Around 1 a.m. on 12/23/2021, a fire occurred at our facility. At this time, emergency vehicles and smoke may be noticeable to the community. We are coordinating with local officials, and working to resolve the issue as soon as possible.”
Rohan Davis, the refinery manager at the plant, told reporters at a press conference that limited information about the fire was available. He said four people were injured and were receiving medical treatment. They are in stable condition, Davis said. Everyone else at the facility was accounted for, Davis said.
According to emergency radio transmissions, three men between the ages of 35 to 45 were flown to the hospital by Life Flight with second-and third-degree burns. One of the victims also had a broken femur. Another man was taken to a hospital by ambulance with unspecified injuries, according to authorities.
Davis said, “We’re ensuring that these individuals are receiving the best care possible and we’ll continue to support their families through this difficult time.”
The company said on Twitter that its emergency response teams were assisting in extinguishing the fire. They monitored and tested the air quality along the fence line and it showed “no adverse impact,” so a shelter in place or evacuation was in the nearby area was not necessary. The company added, “We deeply regret any disruption or inconvenience that this incident may have caused the community.”
Sarah Martinez, who lives across from the plant, told NBC News, “I was just laying in bed and then all of a sudden I felt. like, a wave. It was like a weird feeling, like a wave and then there was a rumble in my apartment and then the next thing I know, all my pictures in my living room are on the floor. I got really scared. I didn’t know what it was. It was so loud.”
Another local resident, Harley, told NBC News she thought the explosion was a “bomb or an earthquake,” adding, “It was very startling. I was nervous to go to sleep. I didn’t want there to be an evacuation and I wouldn’t know because I was sleeping.”
The Cause of the Explosion Is Under Investigation, ExxonMobil Says
According to ExxonMobil, “The causes of the incident have not yet been determined. We are coordinating with authorities as appropriate and all findings will be incorporated in our continuing effort to enhance our safety performance.” The fire happened in the plant’s hydrodesulfurization unit, where a chemical process is used to remove sulfur from petroleum products.
Harris County Lina Hidalgo tweeted, “Grateful to all the first responders, including @HCSO, @HarrisCoPC, @HCFMO, and @ReadyHarris who supported the response to ExxonMobil plant fire in Baytown this morning. The workers who were injured are in my heart as we all wish for a prompt recovery.”
The ExxonMobil Baytown facility produces about 560,500 barrels per day of crude oil, making it the second-largest refinery in the U.S., according to NS Energy. About 7,000 employees work at the plant, according to ExxonMobil.
“Originally developed and operated by Humble Oil and Refining Company, the Baytown refinery began operations in 1920 while the chemical plant went on stream in 1940,” NS Energy writes. “The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, which was later renamed as Exxon, completed the acquisition of Humble Oil and Refining Company in 1959. The olefins plant at the site started operations in 1979, and ExxonMobil built another plant close to the complex in Mont Belvieu to produce polyethylene in 1982.”
Patrick De Haan of GasBuddy tweeted, “It’s too early for anyone to know exactly how this could impact gasoline production, but will be sharing updates. This is a large facility but I do NOT believe this will cause a large spike in #gasprices at this time.”