Oil refinery consultants reflect on lessons learned from Houston chemical facility fire

Oil refinery consultants reflect on lessons learned from Houston chemical facility fire

EAST TEXAS (KTRE/AP) - Oil refinery consultants believe East Texas has a lot to learn from the fire that broke out at a Houston-area petrochemicals terminal.

The fire erupted Sunday at Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, about 15 miles southeast of Houston. Firefighters were working to control the blaze, and the company said the risk of explosion remained “minimal."

The company said the fire spread to seven storage tanks holding components of gasoline and also used in nail polish remover, glues and paint thinner. ITC initially said the fire had spread to eight tanks , but company official David Wascome scaled back the number Monday, saying one of the tanks was empty.

“It’s interesting, plants go to great lengths to prepare for disasters of all kinds,” said Robert Hurst, a leadership and security consultant from Nacogdoches. “One gentleman told me he had several manuals over 4 to 5 inches think with everything you could think of. He said but the key is thinking about it and preparing for it ahead of time, [that way] we are ready if it does happen. I’ve always thought that would be such a neat concept if we could get the public to understand the same thing.”

“We have interstate coming through East Texas, we have rail coming through East Texas, we have pipelines coming through East Texas,” oil refinery consultant Kent Hutchison added. “These are all safe modes of transportation for our energy in our nation. But, we all need to be prepared in case an incident like this happens.”

Hutchison is currently at a production facility in Orange. He’s an hour-and-a-half away from Deer Park, but the conversation about it is as close as his nearest client.

“It’s talked about at everyone of the plants here in Southeast Texas, along the Gulf Coast, about the safety," Hutchison added.

The event could have been worse, so the industry and regulators are interested in preparedness and reaction. Hurst said businesses and individuals could begin by getting in their vehicle.

“Get out and drive starting with a one mile radius and just observe what is in the area. And what’s fascinating is the number of people that will come back and report back and say, ‘My goodness. I didn’t realize.’”

Both consultants said people tend to forget the close relationship East Texas has with the refineries and the products they produce. Hurst suggested everyone adopt an emergency plan and, like industry, practice it.

“We have emergency responders that are highly trained and well qualified to handle the disasters," Hurst explained. "What we have to do as the public is make certain we don’t become a part of the greater problem; not knowing what our plans would be and where we would go.”

An emergency can often block the mind from the most simple questions. Emergency responders advise that you keep contact numbers and locations of family members easily available in case of emergency. Another good idea is to have a family meeting spot.

Copyright 2019 KTRE, and the Associated Press. All rights reserved.