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Large Fire Breaks Out at Valero Port Arthur Refinery

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A large fire broke out Tuesday at the Valero Port Arthur Refinery in southeast Texas, triggering a shelter-in-place order for nearby residents and spewing more than 1 million pounds of potentially toxic emissions into the air.

Valero Refinery Fire Started in Coker Feed Tank

Yesterday’s Valero refinery fire was ignited around 11:50 a.m. in a coker feed tank, which is used to process residual crude oil.

Valero’s emergency response team responded to the scene, assisted by firefighters from the nearby ChevronPhillips chemical plant and the Port Arthur Fire Department.

It took crews about 3 hours to contain the blaze.

No injuries were reported and all workers were accounted for.

According to Reuters, the 100,000 bpd coker was shut after the fire, and could result in the shut-down of other units at the refinery.

Port Arthur Refinery Fire “Looked Like Something Exploded”, Witnesses Report Hearing Large Boom

Witnesses told ABC New12 that Tuesday’s fire was preceded by a large boom.

“I was inside working in my house gathering things and all of a sudden I heard a boom,” one nearby resident said. “I thought someone hit the house and went outside and checked and it was nothing and next thing I know people start talking about black smoke,”

Around 1:00 p.m., a large column of smoke could be seen rising from the refinery.

“When I first seen it, it looked like something exploded…you could see smoke clearly it was a big ole cloud in the sky,” another witness told ABC News12.

People living on the west-side of Port Arthur were advised to shelter-in-place for several hours. Several Port Arthur schools were also subject to a shelter-in-place order, including Dowling, Memorial 9th Grade Academy, Lincoln, PAAC, and Washington.

Valero Port Arthur Refinery Forced to Close, Flooded by Hurricane Harvey

The 335,000 barrel-a-day Port Arthur Refinery was flooded during Hurricane Harvey, and was one of three Valero refineries forced to shut down last month ahead of the storm.

According Reuters, Valero began operations to restart the refinery in early September, but it wasn’t expected to return to full capacity before the end of the month.

It’s not immediately clear whether Tuesday’s fire was related to restart operations or Harvey’s flooding.

Valero Refinery Fire Releases 1 Million Pounds of Emissions

The Houston Chronicle reported that  the Valero refinery fire had released an estimated 1 million pounds of emissions, including:

  • 640,000 pounds of particulate matter (smoke, soot, dirt and dust)
  • More than 135,000 pounds of carbon monoxide
  • Nearly 120,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide

The releases were self-reported by Valero in a filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. State regulations require that Valero submit a final report to the Commission within two-weeks of the incident.

“Valero released enormous amounts of particulate matter, which is very dangerous to breathe,” Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas in Austin, told the Chronicle. “This is unacceptable and we’ll be reviewing the final report and cause of the upset.”

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