Update: Explosion at Williams's Geismar cracker kills one, injures 73

16:52 PM | June 13, 2013 | Clay Boswell

A large propylene explosion and fire at Williams’ Geismar, LA, olefins plant Thursday morning has left 73 people injured and one dead, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. Initial reports incorrectly identified the source of the explosion as ethylene, according to a state official.

Williams' cracker at Geismar has ethylene capacity of 646,000 m.t./year and coproduct propylene capacity of 43,000 m.t./year, according to IHS Chemical. An ongoing $450–500-million expansion project will increase ethylene capacity by 272,000 m.t./year, according to Williams, which had targeted completion of the project for the second half of 2013. Williams also operates a 270,000-m.t./year propylene splitter at the Geismar site. 

Williams has issued a statement confirming the accident. “We are currently focused on the safety and well-being of our employees, contractors, and the local community who are responding to the situation,” it says. “Emergency shutdown valves have been closed. The unit is isolated.”

Jindal said that nearby facilities belonging to Honeywell, Innophos, Univar and PCS Nitrogen had scaled back operations. Honeywell produces fluorocarbons and fluoropolymers at its Geismar facility, according to IHS Chemical’s Directory of Chemical Producers. PCS Nitrogen produces ammonium nitrate and several inorganic acids. Innophos makes phosphoric acid. Univar has a distribution facility.

Enterprise Products has shut in the pipelines that enter the impacted plant, according to a state official.

The explosion occurred at 8:37 a.m. Central Daylight Time. The resulting fire was extinguished by 11 a.m. Eight burn victims were airlifted to hospitals, according to Jindal, and more than 300 persons were evacuated from the facility. Ten remained behind in a plant safe room to manage the shutdown of operations.

Jindal told reporters that the site had been approved for an expansion that was underway. He also said the plant “was in the middle of some kind of turnaround.”