Fire at Shell chemical plant in Houston suburb sends massive column of black smoke into sky

Shell says the fire poses no threat to the local community

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Saturday 06 May 2023 00:05 BST
Deer Park fire: Video from the ground shows beginning of plant fire

A massive fire at a Shell chemical plant in a Houston, Texas, suburb has injured at least one person and sent a massive pillar of smoke rising above the community of Deer Park.

Shell told ABC13 the fire, which broke out at roughly 3pm local time, poses no threat to the local community.

“I’m concerned for shelter in place, air quality, and the safety of the plant workers,” local resident Jennifer Street told the network.

The Independent has contacted Shell for comment.

“We are currently experiencing fire within one of our units,” a representative from Shell told local media outlets in a statement. “The incident is being handled within the boundaries of this facility and there is no threat to the community from this incident. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

Harris County sheriff Ed Gonzalez wrote on Twitter on Friday afternoon he had received “preliminary reports of some type of explosion at an industrial plant.”

First responders including the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, as well as fire crews from the facility and nearby plants, are working to control the blaze, according to the Associated Press.

Live news footage of the fire showed flames at the plant growing smaller over time.

“All employees at the facility have been accounted for,” Harris County comissioner Adrian Gracia told KHOU. “We urge people to avoid the area to make room for emergency response. There is no shelter-in-place currently in effect.”

“Our CAMP (Community Air Monitoring Program) dashboard is operational, and we expect air quality data to start rolling in shortly,” he added. “Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) will provide additional guidance on air quality as needed. As we learn more, we will be sure to share those updates.”

The blaze occured within the plant’s olefins unit, Reuters reports. It is not yet known precisely which chemicals ignited within the facility, or why.

Olefins are extremely flammable and can cause health impacts like cancer and genetic defects, according to federal health officials.

A local resident told KPRC he was concered about the chemicals being released into the air in the fire, and said it feels like there’s an accident “every month” at local chemical plants.

“There’s gunna be one bigger than that. That’s what I feel,” he said. “It scares me. I have children, grandchildren...It’s just getting to the point where it’s unacceptable. I know we need this, but at what cost?”

The Shell plant shares a property with a PEMEX oil facility, and is located in an area with other industrial facilities nearby.

Deer Park is roughly 18 miles east of central Houston.

The community school district said it opted against a shelter in place order “because the wind is blowing away from the City of Deer Park and our schools,” Houston Public Media reports.

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