Pipeline Suspected in Gas Plant Blast

Thursday, February 10, 2011 @ 05:02 AM gHale

Investigators are just beginning their investigation into the cause of an explosion Tuesday at the Enterprise Products Partners natural gas liquids and petrochemical complex 35 miles (56 km) east of Houston, said a company spokesman.

One worker is still missing, the spokesman said. “We have one worker whose whereabouts are still undetermined,” said Enterprise spokesman Rick Rainey. “At this point I don’t want to speculate about his whereabouts until we’ve completed our search of the facility.”

With remaining hot spots extinguished on Wednesday morning, Enterprise began assessments of damage and initial steps of investigation into the cause of the explosion, which did not affect the complex’s main production facilities.

The company is looking at a variety of possible causes, including a pipeline rupture.

“It’s really like a spider web of pipelines that feeds into this storage facility,” Rainey said. The investigation of the explosion’s cause will most likely take months.

The company did say the fire broke out at storage tank on the west side of the facility, and the plant’s control room detected a leak in one of the pipelines feeding the tank shortly before the explosion.

Rainey said they did start shut down procedures, but not before something ignited the gas.

Bright orange flames consumed a large part of the plant and thick black smoke filled the air. Sky 2’s crew estimated the flames were shooting 500 feet into the air at times.

“Our personnel are trying to keep the surrounding area cool to make sure that there is no danger to the surrounding equipment,” Rainey said.

The company said natural gas liquid, essentially the raw product pumped out of the ground, was burning. The plant can take in about 300,000 barrels of it a day. It is then shipped out to different facilities to convert to butane, propane and other products.

Investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived at the plant on Tuesday afternoon. KPRC Local 2 checked the plant’s record with OSHA and did not find any major problems.

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