Investigators now suspect there may have been as many as 5 separate explosions, in rapid succession–together with one straight beneath the trailer Ramirez had just left.
Virtually a mile from the explosion, BP retiree Shera Shurley was watching Television in her cellular house when its windows blew in. She ran exterior to flee. Standing in her driveway, she appeared on the swirling black cloud climbing into the sky. There was no sound, she remembered later, not even a siren.
Texas City’s emergency services crews began rolling moments after the isom unit shattered. BP maintains its own fireplace brigade, and has a mutual response plan with the brigades of the opposite two Texas Metropolis oil refineries, owned by Marathon Ashland Petroleum and Valero. They get loads of practice: In keeping with Texas City Fireplace Division chief Gerald Grimm, BP had 30 fire alarms in 2003 and 27 in 2004, although he says this was not more than other plants of the same measurement.
Quickly 75 local, regional and industrial emergency response items surrounded the location, where partitions of water erupted from “displays”–strategically situated water cannons, each capable of hurling up to 1500 gal. per minute. The thwack of rotors could possibly be heard pounding by the thick smoke overhead. First on scene were information choppers, adopted by a Life Flight helicopter from Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. Just 20 minutes after the accident, the airspace had become so crowded that the Federal Aviation Administration declared a no-fly zone 3000 ft. high and 3 miles wide.
At the tip of 1 hour, the hearth had been contained, and within 2 it was almost out. Only then did the tally sink in: 15 lifeless, over a hundred injured. Of the fatalities, greater than two-thirds worked for Ramirez’s workforce, and had nothing to do with the unit that exploded.
HOW THE ACCIDENT Happened
In accordance with the Chemical Safety Board, computerized data from the management system equipment point out strain inside the production tower (1) rose rapidly from 20 psi to 60 psi. This triggered three pressure-relief valves (2) to open for 6 minutes, discharging sufficient gasoline into the blowdown drum (three) to overwhelm the system. Petroleum could not be recycled again via the refinery (4) rapidly sufficient, forcing liquid and vapors up the a hundred and twenty-ft. stack (5). As fuel settled to the bottom, it ignited in a blast strong enough to rip the roof off a benzene storage tank 300 yards away. Investigators found that a 6-in. drain leading to the plant sewer (6) had been chained open. Fumes traveling beneath the refinery could have fueled one of what is believed to have been 5 explosions.
Texas Metropolis is aware of industrial services and their dangers. Also known as “Toxic City,” it’s house to 4 chemical plants and three refineries. The sprawling BP advanced, in-built 1934, is the third largest of 149 petroleum refineries nationwide. At night it glows like a forested panorama of steel Christmas bushes, strung with flickering security lights. Since records have been kept in 1971, there have been no less than 9 different accidents at the refinery that injured or killed workers, however the explosion on March 23 was by far probably the most destructive.
In the weeks following the accident, BP’s operations came below intense scrutiny. Blowdown drums are a typical characteristic at refineries, as are towers used to launch evaporating gases. Most tower vents, however, embrace a flare system–a form of pilot mild that ignites probably hazardous vapors as they funnel out. In 1992, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandated that the Texas refinery switch to a flare system. Amoco, which merged with BP in 1998, appealed and OSHA withdrew the request. The refinery continued to use stacks that allowed gases to escape.
Former BP employee Wydell Dixon says she has seen lightning ignite vapors wafting out of the isom stack. Whether a flare would have in the end prevented the explosion is questionable given the quantity of liquid as well as vapor involved, says Don Holmstrom, an investigator with the U.S. Chemical Security and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), however “a flare does present an additional layer of security.”
The situation of the momentary trailers additionally has been questioned. BP guidelines allowed trailers within 350 ft. of refining items–at the least two were inside one hundred fifty ft.–supplied they receive site-specific analysis. (BP has since mandated trailers be positioned at the very least 500 ft. away.) Some other refiners take the additional precaution of requiring nonessential personnel to be evacuated when models like the isom are being introduced on line. Based on BP spokesman Hugh Depland, BP has no such requirement.
OSHA and CSB are each conducting investigations. According to Holmstrom, the CSB is looking into such components as whether the fuel was heated too shortly, which may have led to the pressure spike within the tower, and whether all outflow valves had been working properly. An official report is not anticipated for as much as a 12 months. BP is also conducting an investigation. Says Depland, “It would be inappropriate to comment on an investigation that is ongoing.”
Ramirez, who survived the explosion, was left questioning if an evacuation order that may need saved his colleagues was ever handed alongside. His boss, Eugene White, might need recognized, but he died when his trailer office was demolished by the shock wave.
Every week after the accident, workers wearing a who’s who of petro trade caps gathered between shifts in the Texas Tavern. One said a buddy had quit; he’d been having lunch together with his spouse in a minivan when the plant blew right in front of them. Another person noted the date: exactly a year since an explosion in another unit at the plant. Quickly the bar grew crowded with males drinking longneck Buds and capturing pool. Down the street on the refinery, skeletal cranes, shrouded in fog, continued to select over the rubble.