Personal Injury

What Causes Plant And Refinery Explosions?

An oilfield worker uses a walkie talkie at a worksite in Texas

Victims of Texas refinery and plant explosions, fires deserve justice and accountability.

Texas has long been a hub for oil refineries, power plants, and chemical plants - all of which contribute significantly to the state's economy. Unfortunately, this concentration of industrial facilities also poses risks to workers and, sometimes, nearby residents, as evidenced by recent fires, explosions, injuries, and even fatalities.

This year, Texas has experienced a handful of devastating facility explosions and fires, including:

  • Valero Energy Corp., Corpus Christi
  • Marathon Galveston Bay, Texas City (When BP owned it in 2005, this same plant experienced one of the worst refinery explosions in U.S. history - 15 people died, and 180 were seriously injured.)
  • Shell PLC, Deer Park
  • Oak Grove Power Plant, Franklin
  • INEOS Phenol, Pasadena

Causes of explosions and fires at refineries and plants

Usually, when there is a worksite fire or explosion at a refinery or plant, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), as well as federal environmental and labor agencies, will investigate the cause. By understanding the causes behind these incidents and implementing preventive measures, improvements can be made in workplace safety and protecting the well-being of employees and surrounding communities. Here are some of the most common reasons why plant and refinery explosions happen:

  • Lack of proper training. Insufficient training of workers in handling flammable materials and performing "hot work" can lead to accidents and the ignition of hazardous substances.
  • Combustible dust. Accumulation of combustible dust - from processing chemicals, metals, or other materials - in plants and refineries can create a volatile environment prone to explosions and fires.
  • Mishandling explosive, combustible, or blasting agents. Improper handling and storage of explosive or flammable materials can result in accidental ignition, causing explosions or fires.
  • Lightning. Lightning strikes can trigger fires or explosions by igniting flammable substances or damaging equipment, especially during storms.
  • Defective equipment. Faulty machinery, malfunctioning valves, or outdated infrastructure can lead to leaks, sparks, or other sources of ignition that can result in fires or explosions.
  • Flammable fumes and particles. The presence of flammable gases, vapors, or particles in the air can ignite when exposed to an ignition source, causing fires or explosions. Poor ventilation can lead to a toxic buildup of gasses or vapors.
  • Electrical malfunction. Electrical equipment failure or inadequate maintenance can lead to short circuits, sparks, or overheating, which can trigger fires or explosions.
  • Lack of maintenance and cleaning. Neglecting regular maintenance and cleaning of equipment, storage areas, or pipelines can create conditions conducive to fires or explosions.
  • Miscommunication. Inadequate communication and coordination between workers, contractors, and management can lead to misunderstandings or errors that increase the risk of accidents.
  • Lack of planning and training about lockout/tagout. Inadequate procedures for isolating energy sources during maintenance or repair work can result in unexpected releases of energy, leading to explosions or fires.
  • Overheated materials and substances. Elevated temperatures can cause materials and substances to reach their ignition points, leading to fires or explosions.
  • Improperly stored chemicals and flammable materials. Inadequate storage or handling of chemicals and flammable materials can increase the likelihood of accidental ignition or uncontrolled reactions.

Fires and explosions at Texas refineries and chemical plants are often caused by preventable situations. Inadequate training and maintenance, as well as using defective or malfunctioning equipment, are often choices made by employers. That is why corporations need to prioritize effective training, communication, and safety practices.

We get results for victims of Texas refinery and plant explosions

Recent incidents at refineries and chemical plants in Texas have highlighted the grave consequences of fires and explosions, resulting in injuries and loss of life. The problem extends back decades with grim milestones like the 1947 Texas City disaster that started as a ship fire and spread to other nearby ships and refineries, killing an estimated 600 people.

More recently, explosions and fires have been recorded at:

  • ExxonMobil in Baytown
  • Lyondell Basell in La Porte
  • Wendland in Burleson County
  • Texas Petrochemicals in Port Neches
  • KMCO in Crosby
  • Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park

If you were injured or a loved one died in a fire or explosion at a Texas refinery or plant, we can help. Our law firm has the experience and resources that get results for accident victims. Our recent case results include a $2 million settlement for the family of a worker killed in an oilfield accident. (The attorneys' fees and expenses were $800,007.)

Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation. We have offices in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

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