July 29, 2005

BP Texas City refinery fire controlled, no injuries

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A fire at BP Plc.'s giant Texas City
refinery, the country's third-largest, was put under control on
Thursday night, forcing down a secondary unit but unlikely to
disrupt production elsewhere at the plant, the company said.

The reason for the blast at the 60,000 barrel-per-day (bpd)
residual hydrotreating unit, which caused no known injuries,
was not known, said a company spokeswoman. But it appeared to
be an internal event and not an act of terrorism.

"I doubt that it would affect production. At this time I
can't say that for sure," BP spokeswoman Annie Smith said,
adding it was impossible to say when the unit might be returned
to service.

The fire came four months after an explosion at a different
unit killed 15 workers and injured 170 others. The March
incident came a year after an explosion and fire at the
460,000-bpd refinery, which did not cause any deaths or serious

Oil prices vaulted over $60 a barrel after the latest
blast, adding to earlier gains on news of an unrelated fire at
a Murphy Oil refining unit in Louisiana, which fanned fears
that refiners already running at nearly maximum rates might be
hard pressed to meet rising fuel demand.

U.S. crude oil was up 41 cents at $60.35 a barrel at 0529

Firefighters from Texas City and the nearby Marathon Oil
and Valero Energy refineries were battling the blaze along with
BP workers.

The fire was brought under control by 8 p.m. CDT (0100
GMT), just two hours after the explosion.

Smith said the fire was still burning as of 12 midnight CDT
(0500 GMT), adding that the fire would have to be out before BP
could check to see if the site was safe enough to enter to
assess damage.

The earliest the safety inspection could begin is sometime
on Friday, she added.


The fire was being allowed to burn out as of 10 p.m. CDT
(0300 GMT) . The flow of residue, a heavy, gunky oil, to the
unit was stopped shortly after the blast and the remaining fuel
in the unit was in a "a controlled burn."

A residue hydrotreater uses hydrogen under high pressure
and high heat to reduce sulphur content in fuel oil and recover
refinable feedstocks from what is normally considered the waste
of the refining process.

The blast on March 23 had minimal impact on operations, but
forced BP, the world's second-largest oil company by market
capitalization, to take a $700 million charge on its
second-quarter earnings.

It blamed that accident on junior employees but labor
unions said it was due to procedural errors and design.

The March explosion happened as workers were restarting an
octane-enhancing unit after an overhaul.

A source familiar with plant operations said no overhauls
were scheduled on Thursday.

Texas City officials had ordered residents to remain
indoors as the fire was emitting large amounts of black smoke,
possibly containing hydrogen sulfide, which irritates the lungs
in small quantities and can cause unconsciousness in large

BP said air monitoring revealed no indications that harmful
substances were being released by the fire, but a sulfur smell
was noticed.

In April 1947, Texas City was the site of one of the worst
industrial accidents in the United States when a ship full of
fertilizer component ammonium nitrate blew up, killing as many
as 800 and injuring an estimated 5,000.