July 29, 2005

BP Texas refinery fire out

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A fire on Thursday at BP Plc.'s Texas
City refinery, the country's third largest, forced it to shut 3
desulphurisation units but did not disrupt production
elsewhere, BP said.

The cause of the blast at the 60,000 barrel-per-day (bpd)
residual hydrotreating unit, which caused no injuries, was not
immediately known.

Two associated hydrotreating units were also closed, the
company said on Friday, but was not immediately able to give a
figure for total offline capacity.

The fire was extinguished at 0230 local time (0730 GMT),
less than 12 hours after it flared.

The refinery has a total capacity of 460,000 bpd and
produces an estimated 3 percent of U.S. gasoline.

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

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 left in a "a controlled burn."

Safety inspections to assess the damage and when operations
might resume could begin on Friday at the earliest, BP said.

The fire comes four months after an explosion at the
refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others.

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.

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 32 cents at $60.26 a barrel at 0839

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

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