Williams Chemical Plant Closed as Second Worker Dies

Williams Cos. (WMB), a U.S. operator of gas and oil pipelines, said it doesn’t know when its Geismar, Louisiana, chemical plant will resume production as a second worker died from yesterday’s explosion and fire.

The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based company hasn’t yet re-entered the plant to assess the damage and begin an investigation into the cause of the accident, Larry Bayer, the facility’s manager, said today at a news conference.

Scott Thrower, 47, a supervisor of operations who joined the company in 1999, died today, Williams said in a statement on its website. Zachary Green, a 29-year-old operations technician who started working for Williams in October, died at the plant yesterday, Bayer said. One employee and four contractors remain hospitalized, the company said.

“This is a tremendous tragedy for all of us at Williams,” Chief Executive Officer Alan Armstrong said at the news conference.

The Geismar facility made about 1.3 billion pounds (590 million kilograms) a year of ethylene, equal to 2 percent of U.S. production capacity for the colorless gas used in plastics and antifreeze.

The explosion involved propane and propylene and occurred in the propylene fractionation unit, Bayer said. The blaze that followed was extinguished at 2 p.m. local time yesterday and investigators are waiting for flammable gases to disperse before entering the site, he said.

Ethylene Margins

Propane is a natural gas liquid that is converted through heat, pressure and catalysts into ethylene and propylene. As well as ethylene, the Geismar plant makes 90 million pounds a year of polymer-grade propylene, used in plastics and textiles.

Williams sold its stake in the facility for $2.26 billion last year to Williams Partners LP (WPZ), a partnership it controls. The plant’s customers include BASF SE and Total SA, Bayer said.

“While we do not know the financial impact yet from the explosion we expect it will be significant,” Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. analysts led by Selman Akyol wrote today in a note, cutting its rating on Williams Partners to hold from buy. “Ethylene margins had been relatively strong.”

Williams Cos. dropped 1.2 percent to $33.31 at the close in New York and Williams Partners fell 1.2 percent to $47.83.

The plant had 839 people on site at the time of the explosion, which is more than normal because of an expansion project, Bayer said.

Company Probe

Seventy-seven people were seen at emergency rooms, including 15 that were treated for burns, Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals, said in an e-mail yesterday. Some were treated for cardiac and respiratory issues and blunt trauma, she said.

Williams will share the results of its investigation with the rest of the industry to help prevent such incidents in the future, according to Armstrong.

Environmental Protection Agency employees are at the scene and are coordinating with local and state responders, the agency said in an e-mail today.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jack Kaskey in Houston at jkaskey@bloomberg.net; Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Casey at scasey4@bloomberg.net

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