Baytown Scaled Back After Fire

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ExxonMobil’s Baytown, Texas, refinery – site of the second-largest base oil plant in the United States – is operating at reduced rates following a fire on Dec. 23.

The company declined to say specifically if the base oil plant was affected by the incident or to discuss when the facility might return to normal operations.

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The refinery’s base oil plant has capacity to produce 18,800 barrels per day of API Group II base stocks and 8,200 b/d of Group I stocks. That combined capacity of 27,000 b/d places it behind only Motiva’s 40,000-b/d plant in Port Arthur, Texas, among U.S. base oil plants.

The incident, which hospitalized four people, began shortly before 1 a.m. on Dec. 23 in a desulfurization unit, according to a report that ExxonMobil filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. According to a civil lawsuit filed yesterday by two of the injured individuals, the fire broke out as the four of them – all contractors – worked to fix a pipe that was leaking naphtha, a flammable gas used in the production of gasoline.

Plaintiffs Dylan Purcell and Nicolas Moore said that a metal piece became stuck on a bolt and that one of the other two individuals – both of whom work for contractor Team Industrial Services – struck the metal piece with a wrench, creating a spark that ignited the fire. It added that the other Team Industrial worker was supposed to spray gas to prevent sparks but that he failed to do so.

The lawsuit accuses ExxonMobil and Team Industrial of negligence and gross negligence and seeks $10 million.

ExxonMobil declined to comment on the lawsuit. On Monday the company said it was still working to empty the desulfurization unit so that it could investigate the cause of the fire and assess damage. The fire lasted for several hours, sending heavy black smoke into the night and morning sky.

A spokesman said units other than the desulfurization unit were operating and that at least some were operating at reduced rates. She declined to say which units or how much operations had been reduced.

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