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Video: Officials investigating massive fire at Shell petrochemical plant in Texas that sent 9 contractors to the hospital
YouTube KPRC 2 Click2Houston Video Screenshot

Video: Officials investigating massive fire at Shell petrochemical plant in Texas that sent 9 contractors to the hospital

A massive fire broke out at the Shell petrochemical plant in Deer Park, Texas.

An industrial accident caused a huge fire to break out at the Shell Deer Park Chemical Plant around 3 p.m. on Friday. Large flames caused dark black smoke clouds to billow from the industrial plant that is 20 miles east of Houston. The fire raged overnight until it was extinguished on Saturday morning.

The blaze caused nine contractors to be evaluated at a local hospital. The workers at the plant have since been released from the hospital.

Local residents complained that there were loud noises coming from the burning chemical plant overnight.

John Hollywood told KPRC-TV, "We’ve been getting a high noise like a jet engine running from the flares. Probably at about 3 (a.m.) I called the Deer Park Police Department complaining about the noise."

Shell said the rumbling noise was emergency crews trying to put out the fire, which was "causing some flaring and noise." Shell said it was "working to minimize" the noise.

Shell officials said, "The fire started while the Olefins unit was undergoing routine maintenance. It ignited cracked heavy gas oil, cracked light oil, and gasoline."

Officials said they did not detect any dangerous chemicals, and there was no danger to the nearby community.

On Saturday, Shell's Deer Park Chemicals facility issued a statement on Twitter.

The fire at Shell’s Deer Park Chemicals facility has been extinguished. We continue to monitor the affected area for hot spots that could reignite. Air monitoring continues, and no harmful levels of chemicals have been detected. There is no danger to the nearby community. Current response activities being conducted at our facility are causing some flaring and noise, which we are working to minimize. Our immediate priorities remain the safety of people and the environment, and we continue to work in cooperation with local and state agencies.

However, Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti – chief energy officer at the University of Houston and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, petroleum engineering, and chemistry – warned that it is too early to tell if it is safe or if the area dodged an industrial accident.

"The reason is, you've got incomplete burning of hydrocarbons," Krishnamoorti told KTRK-TV. "Things like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, we call them hydrocarbons. That's crude oil. This is incomplete burning of it, which means some of those hydrocarbons are being released directly."

Krishnamoorti noted that the fire could have been much worse.

"This happened in the middle of the day. They were able to identify it as a heat exchange," Krishnamoorti said. "It wasn't a reaction, reactor, or in a distillation column. In many ways, this is the kind of thing we can handle quite well with few repercussions. I would say we got lucky with this particular fire."

The Shell website states that the chemical plant "manufactures base chemicals or raw material chemicals and sells them to other chemical companies that turn them into thousands of consumer products."

Shell lists the Deer Park facility's "key chemical plant business categories" as:

  • Light Olefins – ethylene, propylene and butylenes for plastics, pharmaceuticals, insecticides, antifreeze, detergents, etc
  • Heavy Olefins – isoprene, butadiene and piperylene for latex paints, adhesives, tapes, wire coating, synthetic rubbers, ink, etc.
  • Phenol – phenol and acetone for plastics, wood preservatives, dyes, antiseptic products, agricultural chemicals and other products.

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