Explosions Trigger Large Fire at Mont Belvieu Plant

An explosion at a Mont Belvieu gas processing facility on Tuesday triggered a large fire that could be seen from Houston. (image: khou.com)

A series of explosions led to a large fire at a gas liquids processing plant and storage site in Mont Belvieu, Tex., on Tuesday. The blaze raged through the night and damages are still being assessed, though the fire was contained to a single site, and early indications suggested that most operations continue at the country’s largest propane hub.

One worker at the plant was still unaccounted for following the explosion, according to local media reports. Family members said the man was not answering his cell phone.

An explosion rocked the Enterprise Products’ west storage facility sometime after noon on Tuesday. Town residents said it felt like an earthquake, and smoke from the ensuing fire was visible in Houston, 30 miles away. The source of the problem was unclear Wednesday, though employees in the plant reportedly attempted to shut down work ahead of the blowout.

The explosion blew open a line carrying butane at a plant used to process and store natural gas liquids (NGLs), according to the local CBS affiliate, KHOU. Though Enterprise Products has told Reuters that the main facilities in its Mont Belvieu complex were unaffected, and that its fractionators and other operations continued while the fire burned.

Meanwhile, the natural gas and gas liquids distributor, Oneok, temporarily shut down a fractionator in an adjacent facility as a precautionary measure. And a Dutch petrochemical company slowed its production after losing its propane and ethane supply due to the disruption, according to Bloomberg.

Investors haven’t been spooked too badly by the news. Shares of Enterprise Products (NYSE: EPD) dropped more than $1.30 yesterday afternoon, and are still rebounding, but have recovered about half their losses. Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC’s finance-focused “Mad Money,” labeled Enterprise Products a “buy” while the fires were still going yesterday.

The damages come at a bad time for Enterprise’s gas liquids operations. Last week, the company finally completed lengthy, five-month repairs to a segment of its Teppco propane pipeline in upstate New York. The pipeline is a crucial supply artery for the Northeast.

The fire in Mont Belvieu burned itself out earlier this morning. But the fire’s lingering affects on the energy sector could take much longer to shake out.

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