Nearly three weeks after a fire struck ExxonMobil’s Baytown Olefins Plant in Baytown, the olefins plant and the chemical plant are still operating at reduced rates, according to company spokeswoman Connie Tilton.
The adjacent refinery, though is back to normal operations.
“An investigation is still underway into the cause of the fire so we can learn from this and prevent recurrence,” Tilton said. “We are cooperating with regulatory agencies and are working closely with community officials and other stakeholders to provide information and assistance as required.”
The explosion and fire started in late morning July 31 and burned for about 11 hours. Flaring continued longer as all of the ExxonMobil facilities reduced operations.
The company said 37 people were treated for minor injuries and none were hospitalized.
Air monitoring at ground level during and after the fire did not show hazardous levels of air contaminants, but the company’s report to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality listed substantial emissions from flaring.
Monitoring was conducted by the TCEQ, Harris County, the Baytown Fire Department and ExxonMobil.
Both Harris County and the State of Texas have filed lawsuits against ExxonMobil about air pollution from the fire. The state suit also cites water pollution from firefighting water runoff.
At least one contract worker who claims to have been burned has filed a lawsuit as well.
Rock Owens, Harris County special assistant attorney for Environmental Matters, said they look forward to working with ExxonMobil to resolve the matters that are the subject of two pending lawsuits —one involving a fire at the refinery on March 16 and the fire on July 31.
“We have had preliminary discussions with the company on the case from this spring and have had some interaction with the company’s attorney Albert Axe on the case we just filed,” Owens said.
This is not the first time Harris County has filed against ExxonMobil, with environmental cases filed against the company in 2006 and 2011. In those particular cases, ExxonMobil settled without a trial and paid civil penalties in each case.
“Like 95% plus of all civil cases, it is certainly possible that this case can be resolved without a trial but it is too early in the litigation to tell for sure,” Owens said.
Owen added that ExxonMobil has yet to answer the July 31 lawsuit.
Mike Ashton, ExxonMobil spokesman, said the company has set up claims for community members affected the incident, and it’s committed to honoring all valid claims related to the incident. The company claims line is 1-800-241-9010.