Williams Chemical Plant Blast Kills 1, Scores Are Wounded

One person died and scores were injured by an explosion and fire at a Williams Cos. chemical plant in Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal said.

Seventy-three people were sent to hospitals for treatment, including eight who were flown by helicopter, Jindal said at a news conference today held near the plant in Geismar, 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of New Orleans. More than 300 people were evacuated from the site and all employees have been accounted for, the governor said.

“There’ll be further investigations afterwards to determine what happened so this won’t happen again,” Jindal said. “Right now, our focus is on the recovery and the rescue efforts within the plant and to make sure folks outside in the surrounding community are safe.”

The incident comes eight weeks after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killed 14 people and prompted calls for tighter regulation of the chemical industry.

The cause of the explosion at Geismar, which occurred at 8:37 a.m. local time, isn’t known, according to Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams. The plant was undergoing routine maintenance at the time of the blast, Jindal said. No dangerous levels of toxic chemicals were detected and shelter-in-place orders for the public were lifted by 2 p.m., he said.

Four plants within a two-mile radius sheltered workers and scaled back operations and Enterprise Products Partners LP shut supply lines to the plant, Jindal said.

‘Compliance Issues’

About 10 people are still on site at a plant safe room to complete the shutdown of operations, the governor said.

The facility has previously had “no major events but they have had some compliance issues,” Cheryl Nolan, assistant secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality, said at the news conference. “My staff is going to be looking at that.”

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating today’s explosion, the Department of Labor said in an e-mail.

The plant makes 90 million pounds (40 million kilograms) a year of polymer-grade propylene, used in plastics and textiles. The fire was fueled by propylene, “a very intense, high burning flammable” substance, said Michael Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police.

The plant also makes about 1.3 billion pounds a year of ethylene. That’s equal to 2 percent of U.S. production capacity for the flammable, colorless gas used in products ranging from plastics to antifreeze.

Capacity Expansion

Damage to the plant may tighten markets and boost prices, Andrew Cash, an Atlanta-based analyst at Suntrust Robinson Humphrey, said in a note today. Other major U.S. ethylene producers include Dow Chemical Co., LyondellBasell Industries NV and Westlake Chemical Corp.

Williams sold its stake in the facility for $2.26 billion last year to Williams Partners LP, a partnership it controls. Williams Partners is spending $270 million on an expansion that will increase ethylene output 50 percent by year-end, according to an Oct. 31 company statement.

Williams Partners declined 2.5 percent to $48.43 at the close in New York, the lowest price in three months. Williams dropped 1 percent to $33.70.

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