February 8, 2011 / 7:16 PM / 9 years ago

Blast rocks Enterprise natgas plant in Texas

HOUSTON (Reuters) - One worker was unaccounted for after explosions rocked a natural gas liquids storage complex on Tuesday in Mont Belvieu, Texas, according to the plant’s owner, which also said the main facilities were not damaged.

Flames erupt from the Enterprise Products plant after a series of explosions triggered the blaze which burned out of control at the facility 35 miles east of downtown Houston in Mont Belvieu, Texas February 8, 2011. REUTERS/Richard Carson

Firefighters contained the massive fire, visible 35 miles to the west in Houston, and there were no reported injuries, Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia told Reuters. One plant worker was unaccounted for, owner Enterprise Products Partners said.

Enterprise said the complex’s main facilities were not damaged and remained operational. Those include natural gas liquids and propylene fractionators, an octane enhancement plant and import/export terminals on the Houston Ship Channel, the company said.

The fire struck after a “failure of some kind” hit one or more pipelines that ship natural gas liquids into the storage facility, Enterprise spokesman Rick Rainey said.

The complex processes natural gas liquids like propane and butane for use at nearby petrochemical plants, sits atop natural gas liquids in storage at underground salt domes. Enterprise also operates a pipeline from the plant.

Propane prices at Mont Belvieu, a U.S. pricing point for gas liquids like ethane, butane and propane, rose about 7 cents to $1.39 a gallon after the fire.

The high trade on the Intercontinental Exchange’s trading platform was at $1.3550 after news of the fire, and offers were at $1.3488 a gallon subsequent to that trade, brokers said.

Rainey said all operations at the facility were shut down and feeder pipelines had been shut, though the continued flames likely came from liquids that were left inside.

“What we’re now seeing is probably product that was already in the pipelines that is still being fed into the location,” Rainey said.

Officials did not yet know how the fire started and had yet to determine whether to try to extinguish it or let it burn itself out, he said. No nearby residents had to be evacuated, but a school kept students inside as a precaution.

The facility employs eight to 10 workers, and all but one were accounted for. Rainey said officials were trying to confirm reports that the missing worker was seen leaving the scene.

Rainey did not know the capacity the storage facility under the fire. He said it was “significantly smaller” than a 100-million-barrel storage facility about a mile away.

Several petrochemical companies store products in underground salt domes.

Firefighters from surrounding communities and petrochemical plants worked to contain the blaze as one state highway about a mile from the plant was shut down, according to Texas Department of Public Safety.

Winds blew smoke from the blaze away from the Houston area, and children at nearby schools were being kept inside during play periods, according to local media reports.

Enterprise built its complex in 1979 at Mont Belvieu, north of the Houston Ship Channel and its row of crude oil refineries, which process about 13 percent of U.S. refined products. The blaze had no effect on Ship Channel operations on Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Reporting by Erwin Seba and Kristen Hays in Houston, Robert Gibbons in New York, editing by Alden Bentley and Chris Baltimore

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