Enterprise Products and the town of Mont Belvieu, Texas, suffered quite a shock on Tuesday afternoon when an explosion and fire rocked one of their plants. After isolating multiple affected pipelines, the fire was allowed to continue burning, ensuring the pipeline will be fully de-pressured.
The Chambers County Office of Emergency Management created a staging area, and a specialized fire team provided cooling for equipment surrounding the burning, mangled pipeline.
According to Enterprise Products, the incident occurred away from the main facilities at Mont Belvieu. Additionally, Enterprise did not believe the community at large was at risk. Still, the schools in the nearby Barbers Hill I.S.D. initiated a modified shelter in place as a precaution.
Unlike many areas surrounding major U.S. cities, Mont Belvieu is unique in that it has large salt caverns and reserves of natural gas-based products stored and shipped. Enterprise Products plays a key role in the area as they are a significant pipeline operator, serving numerous customers in the area.
Mont Belvieu is located 35 miles east of Houston, in an area well-known for the oil and gas Industry. Any time an incident occurs at a facility, regardless of the company, people consider the potential health effects, and this one is no different. While Enterprise has yet to determine the specific cause, it also released no specific data on the material being released to the atmosphere and burning. This should be cause for alarm, as ingesting certain chemicals can have long-lasting consequences.
A variety of response groups will typically provide air-quality monitoring in an event such as this. While this was indicated in no news article or release, it is reasonable to assume some type of monitoring was occurring, as schools and the local community were not evacuated.
Additionally, photos and video provide considerable information in an event such as this. An aerial snapshot can give perspective on the enormity of the fire, as well as collateral damage. This can also be helpful in understanding which part of the unit has been affected, as well as which boundaries the equipment will need to have isolated.
In the Ship Channel area of Houston, this type of event is not as significant as the press coverage suggests. In 2005, BP Texas City had an enormous explosion, as did Phillips in 1986. In those events, numerous people were killed in addition to significant collateral damage. It is both a clear and present danger, but also a significant contributor to the local economy via tax revenues and jobs; risks local residents are willing to take.