On January 30, 2020, a gas well fire at The Chesapeake Energy Corp. in Burleson County triggered a massive explosion and killed three workers. This marked the seventh Houston-area incident since mid-2018 to catch the attention of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. Prior to that, the board only conducted investigations in the Houston area once per year.
“Our goal is to complete these investigations in a timely manner and provide valuable safety information to industry, communities and workers in an effort to prevent future events,” said CSB spokeswoman Hillary Cohen.
The CSB is a non-regulatory federal agency based in Washington DC. It investigates the root causes of chemical plant incidents but doesn't issue citations or fines. Instead, the agency makes recommendations to regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The most prevalent causes identified by the agency include:
- Lack of safety management systems
- Equipment failures
- Human error
- Unpredictable chemical reactions
How many incidents were investigated?
Other Texas plant fires and explosions investigated by the CSB since mid-2018 include:
- Watson Grinding and Manufacturing explosion on January 24, 2020 — killed three people and damaged nearly 500 buildings in Houston
- TPC Group explosion and fire on November 27, 2019 — resulted in mandatory evacuations within a four-mile radius of the plant in Port Neches
- Aghorn Energy fatal chemical release on October 26, 2019 — killed an Odessa couple and injured their two children
- KMCO LLC fatal fire and explosion on April 2, 2019 — killed one worker and injured two others in Crosby
- Intercontinental Terminal Company tank fire on March 17, 2019 — burned for three days and pumped black smoke into the air in Deer Park
- Kuraray America explosion on May 19, 2018 — injured 21 workers in Pasadena
Residents fear more chemical plant accidents in the future
Lawsuits from injured workers and county officials alleged that Houston-area oil and gas companies are failing to comply with safety regulations. In addition, many aging refineries (some of which are over 100 years old) are self-regulating.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration released a list of the 18 most recently built refineries in the nation dating back to 1975. Not one of the Texas refineries investigated by the CSB is listed. That means that they were all likely built before 1975.
Some county officials attribute the uptick in incidents to budget cuts and limited enforcement from Texas regulatory agencies. Residents fear that more fires, explosions, and leaks may occur in the future as a result.
If you or a loved one was injured in a chemical plant fire, explosion, or leak, you have the right to take legal action. The Texas attorneys at Tracey & Fox represent clients in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and everywhere in between. Contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation.