Processing Magazine

Fire contained after explosion rocks Delaware refinery

May 18, 2009
Firefighters contained a blaze caused by an explosion at a Delaware oil refinery that rattled nearby homes but caused no injuries. A fireball from the blast at Sunoco Inc.''s Marcus Hook facility lit up the sky during the night. Fire trucks sprayed down flames shooting high into the air at the complex straddling the Delaware/Pennsylvania border. The fire was under control by midday, Sunoco Inc. spokesman Thomas Golembeski said. The company won''t be able to assess the extent of the damage until it is safe to go in to the area. An investigation to determine the cause of the blast is under way, but it will probably be a couple of days before any preliminary findings are made. Authorities and company officials said no injuries were reported and no evacuations of surrounding neighborhoods were ordered. While the blast hit an area that makes a chemical used in plastics, gasoline production at the refinery will be affected as well. Experts say there is plenty of gasoline supply nationwide because Americans are driving much less in the recession. All workers at the plant have been accounted for. Sunoco investigators and the Delaware state fire marshal will determine what caused the explosion, which occurred at the refinery''s ethylene complex. Ethylene is a feedstock used in the production of plastics. Golembeski said the explosion and fire was contained to the ethylene unit and did not affect an adjacent chemical plant that makes polypropylene, a tough plastic used for food containers and molded auto parts, among many other items. The ethylene unit has been shut down. But some refining production in other units was affected, and he said the company was working with two of its upriver refineries -- at Philadelphia and Westville, N.J. -- to "optimize production" and meet customer demands. He could not specify how much production was affected at the facility, which has the capacity to process about 175,000 barrels of sweet crude oil per day into various petroleum products, including gasoline, jet fuel and home heating oil. The refinery adjoins an international seaport and operates around the clock seven days a week with about 700 employees. It refines oil primarily from fields in the North Sea and West Africa.