Harvey: Refineries Shut, Chem Plant Evac Ordered

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 11:08 AM gHale

Water rising along the Houston Ship Channel beside the refineries.

A mandatory evacuation is underway Wednesday for a one and a half mile radius of the Arkema Chemical plant in Crosby, TX, after the chemical refrigeration at the plant ended up compromised because of high water and a lack of power resulting from Hurricane Harvey.

In addition, employees who were manning the plant to keep it safe have been evacuated along with families in the area.

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“In order to ensure the safety of our ride-out team, all personnel have been evacuated from the site at this time,” company officials said.

“We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely. At this time, while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”

Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas last week as a powerful Category 4 hurricane has caused catastrophic flooding along the coast from Corpus Christie to Houston. Arkema said the plant has been hit by more than 40 inches of rain, was heavily flooded and without electricity since Sunday. Back-up generators have largely been swamped.

Maintaining refrigeration for chemicals that must be stored at low temperature is key, the company said. After losing generators, workers transferred products from the warehouses into diesel-powered refrigerated containers.

But the floodwaters also compromised the back-up containers, the company said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are about 1,300 households and 3,800 people in the area around Arkema.

The plant’s chemical inventory includes acetone, benzoyl chloride, chlorodifluromethane, cumene, cumene hydroperpoxide, DI(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, ethybenzene, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, mercury, methyl ethylketone, n-hexane, sodium hydroxide, sodium sulfate, sulfuric acid and butyl alcohol.

In addition to the Arkema issue, other refineries in the Houston region have shut down.

The latest shut down came Wednesday morning and it was the Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, the largest oil refinery in the country.

Early Wednesday, Motiva said it started closing its Port Arthur refinery “in response to increasing local flood conditions.” The plant won’t open until flood waters recede.

Motiva had been steadily reducing production at the plant for days. Late Tuesday it was running at 40 percent capacity. 

Harvey, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm, made a second landfall Wednesday near the Louisiana-Texas border. It is expected to bring winds of 30 to 40 mph and a 2- to 4-foot storm surge in the area.

Port Arthur is located along the border of both states.

Motiva’s decision follows a move by ExxonMobil to shut down its oil refinery in Baytown, Texas on Sunday. The company said it discovered roof damage at the plant, which is the second-largest in the country. 

In all, at least 12 refineries are currently offline, and flooding has knocked out a significant portion of the nation’s refining capacity. 

The reduced capacity means significantly smaller amounts of oil can be turned into gasoline and other products like jet fuel.

The Motiva refinery is owned by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s state-owned oil giant, took full control of the plant in May.

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