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Eyewitnesses claim the incident at the town of Convent in St. John’s Parish first occurred at around 11:00 am Eastern Time. The facility’s switchboard operator mentioned the fire at Motiva was a "Level 2" in the H-Oil (heavy crude) unit, while St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel confirmed the conflagration has been contained to that single unit.
According to witnesses on the scene, the flames soared dozens of feet high, reaching up into the refinery’s columns. Other views included columns of black smoke rising from the plant, with a smell of petroleum in the air, according to another witness.
No reports of injuries have been reported, and the St. James Parish Sheriff's Office said all of the Motiva employees have been accounted for and are safe. They are still in the process of accounting for the contract employees.
A Motiva spokesperson noted air quality monitoring was being done in order to ensure its safety for the community though State Department of Environmental Quality responders were on their way to the plant. The spokesperson further noted that “on-site” personnel immediately responded and are handling the fire but local emergency workers on standby.
The motive behind the explosion and fire has yet to be determined though meteorologist Steve Caparotta of WAFB observed there was lightning in the area at the time of the incident and said it's a reasonable explanation.
Motiva Enterprises is subsidiary of joint and equal owners Saudi Aramco and Shell Oil Company, who have been co-owners for two decades despite a somewhat rocky relationship over some upgrades gone bad. A parting of ways was announced in March, with the lion’s share of the venture—Motiva’s refinery in Texas and 26 distribution terminals—set to go to Saudi Aramco, with the Louisiana refinery, which has a crude capacity of 230,000 a day, and a few other odds and ends set to go to Shell. Shell, who is receiving far fewer assets in the divorce, was asking for $2 billion to close the deal as of early July.
By Erwin Cifuentes for Oilprice.com
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