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Texas gas-plant fire may burn for days

Firefighters are working to contain the fire enough to allow it to burn itself out; an explosion Thursday set off the blaze


By Sarah A. Matott
The Carlsbad Current-Argus

REEVES COUNTY, Texas — Flames were still visible at the Orla, Texas, gas plant Friday as firefighters from Eddy County worked to keep the fire contained as it burned itself out.

The fire may continue for a few more days, officials said.

The fire, the result of an explosion, broke out around 9 a.m. Thursday at the Ramsey Natural Gas Processing Plant, about 45 miles away from Carlsbad.

Eddy County Fire Services, including Otis Volunteer Fire Department and Happy Valley Fire Department, are the only fire personnel on scene, as they are the closest fire departments to the incident said Robert Brader, the Eddy County Fire Service Director.

"We have a mobile command post set up here right now," Brader said. "Right now we are keeping two fire engines, two water tankers and two city road tankers here."

Brader said on Friday that fire personnel firefighters were letting the fire burn itself out and are making sure it does not extend beyond the plant.

"We are working with the company to control the gas leaks. We're trying to find ways to shut off any gas that is feeding into the fire from various sources in the plant," Brader said.

Brader said firefighters are also carefully monitoring nearby tanks with pressurized gas to make sure they do not overheat.

"(If) those storage tanks were to become involved, it could result in another explosion," he said.

Eddy County fire personnel remained on the scene of the fire overnight and would be continuing to have a presence on the scene today. Access roads into the area are closed.

More than 250 workers at the refinery were evacuated from the plant Thursday after the explosion rocked the refinery.

Two workers were hurt with minor injuries during yesterday's incident.

John Christiansen, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation vice president of corporate communications, said in an email Friday that both workers have been treated for their injuries and were released.

The names of the two workers who were injured were not released by Anadarko or the Reeves County Sheriff's Office.

"Knowing everyone was safe and accounted for was the best outcome we could've hoped for," Christiansen said.

The Ramsey Natural Gas Processing Plant is owned by Western Gas Partners and is operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

Christiansen also said in an email the company is allowing the fire to continue to burn out in the interest of safety and that it is contained to one area of the plant.

Excess gas from the plant or surrounding areas that is feeding into the fire has to burn off before fire crews can move forward with securing the plant.

He said the company is working with investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"We are cooperating with OSHA investigators, and working to determine the root cause," he said in an email. "We will not be able to fully assess the extent of damage nor determine when operations will resume until it is safe for personnel to access the impacted area of the plant."

Juan Rodriguez, an official spokesperson with OSHA, confirmed the U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA is investigating the incident at the Ramsey Natural Gas Processing Plant.

"Although it is difficult to say how long an investigation may last, OSHA by law has six months to complete an investigation," Rodriguez said in an email.

"If OSHA finds violations," he said, "then OSHA can issue citations and those citations accompany a monetary penalty."

According to an OSHA fact sheet, before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers research the inspection history of a work site.

"They [compliance officers] gather appropriate personal protective equipment and testing instruments to measure potential hazards," the fact sheet said.

According to Midland TV station KWES NewsWest 9, several recent safety violations were discovered during a planned inspection by the OSHA, which resulted in five violations.

The company also was cited for issues related to how they handled highly hazardous chemicals..

Christiansen said Anadarko would provide additional information about Thursday's incident as the investigation proceeds.

"We also want to again express our sincerest appreciation to the first responders who selflessly assisted with this event in keeping employees and contractors safe," Christiansen said. "We're also grateful for the community support in Carlsbad that provided bus transportation, food and water for all the workers -- a great example of our communities reaching out in a time of need."

Also, on Friday morning, sub-contract workers with Moore Control Systems, Inc., a construction and electrical company, met at the Fairfield Inn and Suites on S. Canal Street to begin to put together an incident report.

What it was for or entailed could not be discussed, representatives said.

Christiansen did not say when workers would be able to return to the plant, but Brader said the fire could continue to burn for days.

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(c)2015 the Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, N.M.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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