Officials say 41 people were injured July 31 after an explosion and fire at an ExxonMobil Chemical Co. propylene and propane unit in Baytown, Texas.
In an email to Plastics News, an ExxonMobil spokeswoman said the 41 injured workers were being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Another 28 workers were assessed but did not require treatment.
The fire was extinguished Aug. 1. The rest of the complex, including its refinery, were operating at reduced rates.
At a July 31 news conference, olefins plant manager Jason Duncan said that ExxonMobil's "No. 1 priority is to protect the people in the community and the people who work for us."
Duncan added that employees treated had minor burns. He added that the unit that was on fire was a propylene recovery unit that purifies the material. Duncan also said that the explosion and fire occurred after "a loss of containment during which material leaked outside of a pipe or vessel."
"We will work diligently to figure it out so that it doesn't happen again," Duncan added. He also said that the plant's safety systems "activated as designed" after the explosion.
Before the fire was out, ExxonMobil issued a shelter-in-place warning for the city of Baytown and for several area schools, according to the Houston Chronicle. A shelter-in-place warning advises people to stay indoors, keep doors and windows closed and turn off the air conditioning.
The accident could have an impact on North American markets for polypropylene resin. The site has 1.4 billion pounds of annual production capacity for polymer-grade propylene (PGP), according to Chemical Data Inc., a Houston-based consulting firm. That amount represents 5 percent of regional PGP capacity, according to CDI. PGP is the key feedstock used to make PP.
One longtime PP market watcher told Plastics News on Aug. 1 that his sources indicated that Baytown's PP resin units "continue to operate normally." As for the impact of a propylene outage, he said that "I don't see any traders rushing out to buy propylene this morning. ... On the other hand, volatility in the propylene market is always a risk for PP buyers."
In an email, senior research analyst John Maselli of Houston's Wood MacKenzie consulting firm said that "at this time, it's difficult to gauge the full impact of the fire on the greater ExxonMobil Baytown complex."
"The duration and magnitude of the market impact will be determined by the extent of the damage and what units and chemical value chains are affected," he added. Wood Mackenzie estimates about 45 percent of ExxonMobil's installed U.S. chemical capacity is in Baytown.
ExxonMobil already is facing a lawsuit from the accident. On Aug. 1, the Harris County Attorney's Office filed suit against the firm for "unauthorized emissions into the atmosphere," according to the Chronicle. The suit seeks injunctions stopping ExxonMobil from continuing the alleged violations.
In May, Houston-based ExxonMobil approved a $2 billion expansion project that would include major capacity expansions for elastomers and specialty olefins at Baytown, which is marking its 100th year as a production site.