Exxon fights fire at Baytown, Texas, petrochemical plant; 37 injured

Exxon Mobil said it was fighting a fire that erupted on Wednesday at its Baytown, Texas, refining and chemical plant complex, injuring 37 workers and sending nearby residents indoors.

More than three dozen people were treated for minor burns, none requiring hospitalization, said plant manager Jason Duncan in an afternoon media briefing. The company was still working to shut down the olefins unit which processes propane and propylene - a plastics building block - and isolate the fuel keeping the fire burning, he said.

Duncan declined to comment on the fire’s impact on production at Exxon’s adjacent 560,500 barrels-per-day oil refinery. Two people familiar with its operations, however, said Exxon reduced some production at the refinery, which provides feedstocks to the unit that caught fire.

The fire, which was being fought by the company’s employees, sent black smoke into the air over the complex in the Houston suburb. Firefighters and equipment from the city entered the plant at midday to assist, an official said.

Residents around the plant were told to close windows and doors, turn off air conditioning and remain in their homes or offices. Schools in several communities in the area kept summer students indoors. The city of 75,000 people is located about 30 miles east of Houston.

“We are cooperating with regulatory agencies. We deeply regret any disruption or inconvenience that this incident may have caused the community,” Exxon spokeswoman Sarah Nordin said in a statement.

Available air monitoring information from the inside the Baytown Olefins Plant’s grounds and outside monitoring sources recorded no adverse impacts, Duncan said. The fire was continuing to burn residual fuel contained in a large column on Wednesday afternoon.

The Baytown complex that includes the olefins plant where the fire occurred employs about 7,000 people among four manufacturing sites that cover 3,400 acres (13.8 square kilometers). It sits along the Houston Ship Channel, the nation’s largest and busiest energy port.

Aerial footage showed flames and heavy smoke emanating from a large column at the facility, which Exxon identified as part of its production of olefins, a component of plastic. Emergency vehicles and people were massing around the edge of the complex.

Exxon last year completed the construction of a multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker at the Baytown Olefins Plant. The cracker can produce 1.5 million tons per year, and provides feedstock to two other production lines at its Mont Belvieu, Texas, plastics plant.