An ExxonMobil oil refinery fire took place on December 23, 2021. At least four people required hospitalization as a result of the fire. A refinery manager indicated the fire may have started from an explosion.
A fire breaks out at ExxonMobil’s refinery in Baytown, Texas. Photo Credit: Molly Fitzpatrick, Reuters
What do oil refineries do?
An oil refinery is an industrial plant that uses crude oil to produce diesel, gasoline, and other petroleum products.
Oil refineries produce fuels for the transportation sector and other industries. To do so, refineries separate crude oil components. Then, they can sell these components for various purposes. For example, some refineries sell lubricants to industrial plants immediately after distillation. Other refineries produce products requiring multiple rounds of distillation before being sold to end-users.
According to the American Petroleum Institute, U.S. oil refineries process approximately 17 million barrels of crude oil every day. Large refineries can process hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil daily.
In addition, oil refineries produce over a dozen petroleum products. They also produce liquids that the petrochemical industry uses to make chemicals and plastics.
What happened at the Texas ExxonMobil oil refinery just before the holidays?
Authorities reported a “major industrial accident” at an ExxonMobil oil refinery, according to NBC News. They said a fire began around 1 a.m. and asked residents to avoid the area temporarily. A Texas Commission on Environmental Quality filing indicated the fire occurred at the refinery’s Hydro Desulfurization Unit 1.
Several residents said they felt their homes shake after what they said appeared to be an “explosion.” To date, ExxonMobil has not confirmed if an explosion took place. A refinery manager said that ExxonMobil is “still collecting” information surrounding the fire.
Reuters reported that ExxonMobil had operated its refinery after the fire at reduced daily rates. ExxonMobil has also shut down the unit involved in the fire. This unit remained inactive as of December 27.
ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery can process up to 584,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The refinery’s location spans 3,400 acres on the Houston Ship Channel. It employs roughly 7,000 workers at its Baytown area sites.
Dangers of Oil Refineries to Workers and Nearby Residents
Oil refineries house combustible chemicals. They must store these chemicals properly. Otherwise, refinery chemicals can cause fires and explosions that result in accidents, injuries, and fatalities.
Also, some refinery chemicals are highly acidic. They should not come into contact with the skin.
Refineries can release benzene, xylene, and other hazardous chemicals. These chemicals can cause serious breathing issues and other chronic health problems if inhaled.
Moreover, refineries are leading sources of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide. These pollutants can endanger refinery workers and the environment.
Refineries are responsible for providing workers with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). They must operate per federal, state, and local health and safety requirements.
Texas ExxonMobil Oil Refinery Fire Injuries or Deaths
ExxonMobil reported no fatalities from the oil refinery fire. Reuters reported 37 refinery workers suffered injuries due to the fire. A refinery manager said the injured workers received treatment for minor burns. Four people required hospital stays, with three of those individuals needing transport via air ambulance. At a news conference in the early morning hours on December 23, 2021, ExxonMobil refinery manager Rohan Davis said they “appeared to be in stable condition.”
Who’s liable for the injuries resulting from the ExxonMobil fire?
The ExxonMobil fire’s cause remains unknown. ExxonMobil has launched an investigation into the fire. Company officials are working with authorities to determine why the fire occurred and who’s responsible for it.
However, Houston Public Media reported that two contract workers filed a $10 million lawsuit against ExxonMobil due to the fire. The workers allege they suffered head and spine injuries and were burned all over their bodies from the fire. They also claim they had to jump down more than 20 feet by force to avoid further injuries during the incident.
Additionally, Reuters noted a group of homeowners filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil. The group claims destruction to their homes resulting from the fire. The group asked a Texas court to prevent ExxonMobil from altering, destroying, or modifying evidence relevant to the fire until their counsel can review it.
ExxonMobil could face additional lawsuits if authorities find it acted negligently or wrongfully in its operations or maintenance at its Baytown refinery. In these instances, refinery workers or nearby residents may claim ExxonMobil is responsible for injuries from the fire, or they may seek financial compensation for property damage.
Was the Texas ExxonMobil incident causing injuries preventable?
Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) Guidelines explain how oil refineries can process crude oil safely. Additionally, the guidelines explain how refineries can guard against emissions. They also highlight routine cleaning and maintenance, venting and flaring, and other techniques to minimize risk for refinery workers and nearby residents.
Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers industry-specific recommendations and regulations for oil refineries. OSHA helps refineries maintain safe and productive work environments. It conducts audits and other assessments to verify refineries operate their facilities per the law.
Lastly, Texas lawmakers have established safety statutes for refineries and other companies that handle natural resources. Courts enforce these statutes across the state.
Businesses must take precautions to protect against workplace accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Companies that knowingly violate federal and state safety mandates can receive compliant penalties. They also risk brand reputation damage and revenue losses.
Many have recently raised concerns about ExxonMobil’s oil refineries’ health and safety protocols. Three ExxonMobil oil refineries ranked among the top-10 U.S. polluters in a Reuters analysis released in May 2021. Together, these refineries averaged emissions of 80 pounds per hour, approximately eight times the average rate of the list’s seven other refineries.
Previously, ExxonMobil’s Baytown oil refinery experienced multiple safety incidents in 2019. In July 2019, ExxonMobil reported an explosion and fire at its Baytown refinery. More than 60 people received medical evaluations after the incident. Additionally, it prompted a shelter-in-place order for approximately 5,000 affected individuals.
Four months earlier, ExxonMobil discovered a fire at its Baytown refinery. Firefighters extinguished the blaze within a few hours, but pollution contaminated the surrounding air for eight days after the fire.
Finally, Texas officials have filed lawsuits against ExxonMobil in the past. These lawsuits allege ExxonMobil violated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Air Act.
What should you do if you or a loved one suffered injuries from the Texas ExxonMobil oil refinery incident?
The Texas ExxonMobil oil refinery fire has had far-reaching effects just 10 days after it happened, and those impacted by the incident may be entitled to financial compensation.
Individuals should speak with an attorney about filing a lawsuit if they sustained injuries from the fire. In these instances, it’s paramount to partner with an attorney who’s committed to excellence. That way, an individual can receive best-in-class legal support. Plus, their attorney will do everything in their power to ensure they win their case, receiving the maximum fair compensation amount.
The Lanier Law Firm is one of the nation’s leading legal practices. Our Houston attorneys can evaluate a legal claim relating to the ExxonMobil oil refinery fire. From here, we can help you pursue optimal legal recourse as relevant to your case’s specific facts.
We’re available to meet with you and discuss your legal claim. For more information or to request a free case evaluation, please contact us online or call us at 713-715-1878.