Naphtha identified as chemical in fire at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery – KHOU.com

Three people suffered burns, and another person suffered a broken leg, authorities said. The fire burned for several hours.

BAYTOWN, Texas — Harris County Fire Marshal’s officials are investigating an overnight fire at the ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery that left four people injured. 

The fire, which started about 1 a.m. Thursday, burned well into the daylight hours before the company confirmed it had been extinguished in a release sent around 9 a.m.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said three of the four injured workers were taken to hospitals by Life Flight. 

Three suffered flash burn injuries, and the fourth employee suffered a broken leg, authorities said.

“We deeply regret this disruption,” said refinery manager Rohan Davis. “Clearly, this is a very unfortunate incident. We will do a thorough investigation to make sure an event like this doesn’t happen again.”

Two of the victims were later released from hospitals on Thursday. Two others remained and were stable, according to ExxonMobil spokesperson Julie King.

Davis said the fire erupted in a unit that produces gasoline.

It was fueled, in part, by a flammable liquid known as Naphtha which is used to dilute crude oil.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, naphtha is “a generic term applied to a refined or partially refined petroleum fraction with an approximate boiling range between 122 degrees and 400 degrees Fahrenheit.”

ExxonMobil confirmed all employees were accounted for overnight. While employees were evacuated from the impacted section, the rest of the plant was still in operation. 

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality shared on social media that air quality readings were below detection levels around the refinery.

There were never any evacuation or shelter-in-place orders.

“This is not the first time ExxonMobil, at this location, has had an incident like this,” said Air Alliance Houston executive director Jen Hadayia.

The non-profit, which is dedicated to reducing public health impacts of air pollution, considers another incident unacceptable.

Hadayia believes stricter enforcement and accountability continue to be needed in an area with hundreds of petrochemical and manufacturing facilities.

“Chemical disasters like this are preventable,” said Hadayia.  “An apology is not going to prevent the next one.”

ExxonMobil set up an information line for any community members to find out more information: 1-800-241-9010.

The company’s full statement:

“Our first priority is people in the community and in our facilities. Air monitoring continues along the fence line.  Available information shows no adverse air quality monitoring impact to the community or personnel on site at this time.

We are saddened to inform that four people were injured and are receiving medical treatment. All four individuals are in stable condition. All other personnel have been accounted for.

We are in the process of setting have set up an information line for community members affected by this incident. Please call 1-800-241-9010.

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.

We deeply regret any disruption or inconvenience that this incident caused to the community.”

Rachel Neutzler with the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office said investigators will talk to everyone involved and will look at the physical evidence to see if they match.

“We’ll take all the interviews. We’ve pulled some of the social media pictures and visuals that we’ve seen, and then we’ll work again with ExxonMobil,” Neutzler said. “If they’ve got any security footage on site that we can look at, and we’ll determine exactly, ‘Was there an explosion and then a fire? Was there a fire then an explosion? What was that sequence of events that happened?’”

KHOU 11 received multiple viewer reports of the fire. One person sent us video, which is below.

KHOU 11 reporter Ugochi Iloka spoke with residents who reported being hearing a loud boom.

Others in the area posted online, claiming they could hear a loud noise miles away from the plant. Some said they felt their bed, and even their house, rattle.

If you were impacted by this incident, ExxonMobil ask that you call 1-800-241-9010.

ExxonMobil released the following statement:

“Our first priority is people in the community and in our facilities. Air monitoring continues along the fence line.  Available information shows no adverse air quality monitoring impact to the community or personnel on site at this time.

We are saddened to inform that four people were injured and are receiving medical treatment. All four individuals are in stable condition. All other personnel have been accounted for.

We are in the process of setting have set up an information line for community members affected by this incident. Please call 1-800-241-9010.

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.

We deeply regret any disruption or inconvenience that this incident caused to the community.”

Company officials held a news conference at around 4:30 a.m. to give an update on the fire. Here’s that news conference in its entirety:

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About ExxonMobil’s Baytown facility

ExxonMobil’s Baytown facility sits on around 3,400 acres along the Houston Ship Channel. It has four manufacturing sites. According to the company’s website, there are around 7,000 employees.

Some facts about the facility from their website.

  • The ExxonMobil refinery can produce up to 584,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
  • The chemical plant produces products, such as butyl in tires and polypropylene, which goes into car bumpers.
  • The Olefins Plant is one of the largest ethylene plants in the world
  • The Mont Belvieu plastics plant produces high- and low-density polyethylene, which goes into items like film to bundle water bottles and heavy-duty sacks that hold food.

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