U.S. Begins Probe Of Valero Texas Refinery Fire

Federal safety investigators were headed to Valero Energy Corp.'s Sunray, Texas, refinery on Saturday, shut since Friday by an explosion in a residual crude unit.

Flames could be seen on Saturday evening rising from blackened machinery at the 158,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery from one of several police checkpoints keeping the curious at least a mile from the plant. Motels in the city of Dumas, 12 miles south of the refinery, were filling up with workers from Valero refineries in Texas and Oklahoma who are coming to assess damage and plan for repairs.

"Valero went boom," said one motel night clerk explaining the lack of rooms. "All these people are coming to town because of it."

One worker remains in critical but stable condition at the burn center of a Lubbock, Texas, hospital, said Valero spokeswoman Mary Rose Brown in a statement.

Two other workers at the burn center were listed in good condition and may be released from the hospital on Sunday, Brown said. Sixteen other workers taken to area hospitals after Friday's explosion had been released from area hospital as of Saturday.

Valero was just beginning the process of examining when repairs could be made to the refinery and production resume, Brown said. It has already had to buy gasoline, diesel and other motor fuels to make up for the supply lost from the refinery, the company said.

Investigators for the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board will focus their probe on the explosion at the Sunray refinery, a board spokesman said.

It's too early to speculate about expanding the investigation to include three other fires this year at Valero refineries in Texas City, Texas, and Delaware City, Delaware, said CSB spokesman Daniel Horowitz.

"I think the fact that the other fires have occurred was a factor in deciding to go start look at this one," Horowitz said.

Investigators from federal and state environmental agencies have already visited the refinery and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators continue to work at the plant.

Valero L.P., a pipeline operator spun off this year from the refiner, has shut crude-oil pipelines leading to the refinery from central Texas and Colorado, according to a statement.

Valero L.P. has also shut pipelines that carry gasoline and other motor fuels to north and west Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

Lengthy CSB and OSHA investigations and injured workers lawsuits have proved costly for refiners in recent years.

The deadly BP Texas City blast, which killed 15 workers and injured 170 workers, is still being probed by the CSB and has forced the company to set aside $1.6 billion to settle lawsuits. OSHA fined the company $25 million for violations at two refineries.

Story courtesy of CNN Newsource and CNN Money.