ExxonMobil official: refinery flaring in Beaumont due to power outage

ExxonMobil official: refinery flaring in Beaumont due to power outage

Fire and smoke billowing over downtown Beaumont’s dreary dark afternoon sky about 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Jan. 21, caused citizen alarm and Lamar University to suspend classes. The emissions were generated from the ExxonMobil Beaumont Complex, according to company Public and Government Affairs Manager Lee Dula.

“At approximately 2:22 p.m., the ExxonMobil Beaumont Complex experienced a disruption of connectivity with the local power grid,” Dula reported. “Preliminary indications are that this issue originated outside of our complex and triggered our automated safety mechanisms to engage. Our internal automated safety mechanisms functioned as they are designed, and we have successfully transitioned our operations into a safe-park mode.”

Lamar University officials decided to err on the side of caution.

“Activities are suspended and the campus will be closed for the remainder of the day,” a bulletin from the university read. “Cardinal Village Dorms: Shelter in place until further notice.”

Entergy spokesperson Debi Derrick said at 4 p.m. that crews were still working to determine what happened to cut off power to the ExxonMobil Beaumont Complex and to get the business’ power service up and running.

“A half-dozen high-voltage transmission lines that supply electricity to the more industrial areas south of Beaumont lost power,” Derrick said. “The power loss appears to be weather related but we won’t know until crews have assessed the situation.

“We are working to restore power as safely and as quickly as possible.”

Shortly after Derrick’s assurances from Entergy, Lamar University officials began preparing for a speedy resolve as noted in a bulletin sent to students.

“The ExxonMobil plant is working with Entergy to re-establish power,” the bulletin read. “All evening and night classes will resume as scheduled.”

According to TCEQ Media Relations Manager Andrea Morrow, both ExxonMobil Beaumont Refinery and ExxonMobil Chemical Plant experienced emissions events due to the power outage. Morrow said Chemtrade Refinery Services (behind the Lamar University Montagne Center) also experienced an opacity event due to an outage on Thursday.

According to the TCEQ Air Emission Event Reporting Database, an atmospheric tower at the ExxonMobil Beaumont Refinery released 29,031.1 pounds of isopentane. The TCEQ limit is5,156.31 pounds According to a product safety report from www.exxonmobilchemical.com, isopentane is a component used by ExxonMobil in its Exxsol Pentane product, a liquid solvent used in products such as spot cleaning and foaming shave gels. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, inhaling isopentane can cause coughing, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, shortness of breath, sore throat and irregular heartbeat. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh.

At the ExxonMobil Chemical Plant, the HP Flare released 25,991.2 pounds of carbon monoxide. The TCEQ limit is 245.26 pounds per hour. The nitrogen oxide release was also considerably high at 1,058.5 pounds, with the limit at 33.98 pounds per hour, according to the TCEQ Air Emission Event Reporting Database.

The Chemtrade Refinery Services opacity event, which the company reported to TCEQ as due to a lightning strike at the local electric company’s main transmission line around 2:22 p.m. Thursday, caused an approximate 55 percent rise in opacity. The level reported was 75 percent. Stack opacity levels are measured from 0 percent (clear) to 100 percent (completely opaque). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, a practical level of smoke is between 10 and 20 percent. The TCEQ limit is 20 percent.

At approximately 2:33 p.m., electrical power was re-established and Chemtrade operations personnel began executing a controlled shutdown of the plant and made operational adjustments, which reduced the percentage of opacity to below the permit level, the TCEQ report states.

Estimates are based on a 24-hour window and are subject to change, Morrow reminded.

Dula released the following statement regarding the outage on Thursday:

“To this point, ongoing offsite monitoring has indicated no impact,” he said. “In an abundance of caution, this monitoring will continue. We regret this incident occurred and any inconvenience it may have caused for our neighbors and community. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors.”

Wednesday, Jan. 27, Dula said flaring would continue to be visible as ExxonMobil returns to normal operations, and that he could not speculate on how long that process would take. 

“We anticipate that contractual commitments will continue to be met,” Dula added.