Only minor injuries reported, cause of explosion still unknown
REEVES COUNTY, TX – More than 250 oil workers escaped injury Thursday morning after an explosion rocked the Anadarko gas refinery near Orla and forced safety workers to evacuate people from a 10-mile radius, officials said.
Only two workers were reported to have minor injuries by late Thursday. The black plume of smoke from the refinery was visible from as far away as the Guadalupe Mountains and the explosion could be felt 25 miles away.
The fire broke out about 9 a.m. at the Ramsey Natural Gas Processing Plant near Orla, about 45 miles away from Carlsbad.
The plant is owned by Western Gas Partners and is operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.
John Christiansen, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation vice president of corporate communications, said in an email Thursday afternoon the fire was still burning into the night, but had diminished and had been contained to one area of the plant. Emergency scanner traffic indicated that firefighters would stay at the site overnight to ensure any remaining fire burned safely.
A damage estimate was not available. It is unknown when the plant will resume full operation.
Christiansen said the cause of the explosion or any events surrounding it cannot be confirmed until Anadarko investigators arrive on site.
Midland TV station KWES NewsWest 9 reported several recent safety violations were discovered during a planned inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The OSHA inspection resulted in five violations and the company also was cited for issues related to how they handled highly hazardous chemicals.
The more than 250 workers were in the area at the time of the explosion. They were all evacuated by bus to Carlsbad’s Walter Gerrells Performing Arts Center. Workers in nearby areas also were evacuated.
Christiansen said that they have confirmed two minor injuries from the incident, however, Capt. Lance Bateman with the New Mexico State Police said he heard reports that four people had minor injuries.
The explosion was heard for up to 25 miles away. Witnesses closer to the plant said they could feel its impact.
Justin Baker, who was working a site near the plant when it exploded said that the explosion shook his vehicle.
The explosion at Ramsey Plant is contained according
The explosion at Ramsey Plant is contained according to plant officials, but was initially a large blaze. (Photo: Courtesy Photo)
“I was talking with another pumper when it happened. It shook both of our trucks. We didn’t know what it was at first and as soon as we looked around we noticed the flames and smoke (and) we knew it was serious as soon as we spotted it,” Baker said.
Reeves County Sheriff Art Granado said that their department was scrambling to get details after the explosion.
“It’s been crazy,” Granado said. “People heard it 25 miles out. It was a big boom.”
Other officers on scene with the Texas State Police said they could see the fire’s flames from the Guadalupe Mountains.
As a precautionary measure, U.S. Highway 285 was closed both northbound and southbound toward the area of the explosion for several hours.
Additional county roads in Reeves County also were closed in the surrounding area.
Surrounding high pressure gas lines going in and out of the plant also were turned off, so the pressure build-up would decrease and to prevent a secondary explosion from happening.
Capt. Alan Griffith with the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office said that he had sent out his sergeant and three deputies to assist Reeves County with the incident.
“My deputies said it was a big fire and that there was a lot of smoke,” Griffith said. “We assisted the Texas Department of Public Safety and the state police with evacuating people and traffic control.”
The New Mexico State Police, the Texas State Police and the New Mexico Department of Transportation was also at the scene, and multiple fire departments, including Otis Volunteer Fire Department and the Carlsbad Fire Department were assisting with the fire.
Christiansen also said in an email that the company was appreciative of the quick and comprehensive respond of local sheriff’s office and fire departments.
“(We are) thankful that all of our workers are safe and accounted for,” he said. “We will provide additional information as appropriate.”
Until a full assessment of the plant’s damage is done, the plant will not be able to resume operations.