Explosion at Arkema Texas Plant Feared
Two explosions apparently hit an Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, producing liquid organic peroxides in the early morning hours of Aug. 31. The French group’s US subsidiary and local authorities said black smoke had been seen emerging from the facility. Earlier, floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey had engulfed it. Due to the threat, no one is being allowed in the vicinity.
The compounds, which are used primarily to produce plastic resins, polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC and polyester reinforced fiberglass, and acrylic resins, can burn if not stored and handled under the right conditions, the chemical producer said.
The plant and the surrounding area were evacuated as a precaution.
“At Crosby, we prepared for what we recognized could be a worst case scenario, and we had redundant contingency plans in place,” said Rich Rowe, president and CEO of the US subsidiary, Arkema Inc. However, he said the situation meanwhile had changed because the plant was under an “unprecedented” six feet (nearly two meters) of water and had lost primary power as well as two sources of emergency backup power.
“We have lost critical refrigeration of the materials on site that could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire,” Rowe said. ”The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it.”
Arkema said it was working closely with local authorities, the state of Texas and the US Department of Homeland Security to deal with the precarious situation. It set up a call center to handle questions from neighbors and others affected, as well as a claims center to handle financial claims related to the situation in Crosby.
In a statement issued a day earlier, the company said it had anticipated the storm and safely shut down all operations before hurricane landfall, but around 40 inches (nearly 16 cm) of rain had fallen in the vicinity of the plant by Aug. 28. By that time, the production site had been without power for more than 24 hours, and its back-up generators had “largely been inundated with water.”
The primary challenge, Arkema explained, “has been maintaining refrigeration for these products, which are stored at low temperature.” It said the site lost refrigeration to all of its cold-storage warehouses when electrical power was lost and back-up generators flooded. The crisis team then transferred products from the warehouses into diesel-powered refrigerated containers, and continued to monitor the situation.
With refrigeration on some of its back-up product storage containers compromised due to extremely high water, Arkema said it was now “limited in what it can do to address the site conditions until the storm abates,” adding that the temperature of each refrigeration container was being monitored remotely.
On Aug. 29, the day before it issued the warning termed critical, the French group said it did not see any imminent danger, although “the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”
Arkema operates five plants in Texas.
According to data published by the National Response Center, up to mid-week nine Texas production facilities had released some amount of chemicals due to Harvey. In a filing, ExxonMobil said a floating roof covering a tank at its Baytown oil refinery sank in heavy rains, dipping below the surface of oil or other material stored there and causing “unusually high emissions,” especially of volatile organic compounds.
At ExxonMobil’s Beaumont refinery, Harvey damaged a sulfur thermal oxidizer. As a result, the facility released 1,312.84 lbs. of sulfur dioxide, well in excess of the amounts allowed by its permits.
Other major companies shuttering their plants ahead of the storm also filed notices with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Chevron Phillips said its Cedar Bayou chemical plant could exceed permitted limits for several hazardous pollutants, such as 1,3-butadiene, benzene and ethylene, during shutdown procedures. Chevron already faced a $20 million fine for emitting an excessive quantity of hazardous chemicals over a five-year period.
A leak in a pipeline operated by Williams transporting anhydrous hydrogen chloride gas. caused a “shelter in place” warning before it was stopped by emergency personnel.