Shell Chemical Plant Fire: A Troubling History of Malfunctions

May 10, 2023 | Fires And Explosions, Industrial Accidents, Petrochemical Accidents, Work Accidents

PHOTO: Texas Tribune

On Friday, May 5th, a massive chemical fire erupted in an explosion at the Shell Deer Park chemical plant in Deer Park, TX. The incident occurred after a series of self-reported complex malfunctions within the facility, like tripped compressors, pressure loss, and freezing weather.

What To Know About Shell Deer Park

  • Shell Deer Park is a 1500-acre complex located in Deer Park, TX, approximately 20 miles east of downtown Houston along the Houston Ship Channel. It operates 24 hours a day.
  • It was the first manufacturer established in Deer Park in 1929. 
  • The complex produces base chemicals and raw materials, including light olefins, heavy olefins, and phenol. 

Timeline of Events

  • The fire initially ignited in the afternoon of Friday, May 5th, in an explosion in an olefins unit, used to make plastics and rubber, because of heat exchange between two heavy gas oils. 
  • 9 contract employees were evaluated at the hospital for possible chemical exposure and burn injuries. All have since been released. 
  • The fire was extinguished for a few hours on Saturday morning before it reignited around 3PM, according to Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith. 
  • Officials reported that the flames were finally extinguished the following Sunday, after more than 50 hours of fighting the flames.
  • Water runoff from the firefighting efforts exceeded the chemical plant’s wastewater capacity and was diverted into the Houston Ship Channel. As much as 11,000 gallons per minute went into the water during the fire. 

History Of Malfunctions At The Shell Deer Park Complex

Over the past year, the Shell Deer Park chemical plant has experienced four separate malfunctions in one of its olefins units. Surprisingly, despite these incidents, Texas regulators have yet to hold the company accountable for these issues. In each case, Shell has utilized the “affirmative defense,” a legal provision under Texas law that excuses industrial operators from liability for pollution events that are reported as accidents or emergencies. 

While this defense may absolve companies of responsibility for certain incidents, critics argue that it may also encourage them to neglect maintenance and equipment upgrades, leading to dangerous malfunctions that put workers and surrounding neighborhoods and businesses in harms way. The recent fire at the plant has once again raised concerns about the effectiveness of Texas regulations and the impact of corporate interests on public safety.

The Houston Area Is A Hotspot For Petrochemical Accidents

The fire is the most recent petrochemical-related accident in the Houston area. At least a dozen similar explosions have occurred within the last 5 years:

  • INEOS Chemical Plant Explosion – March 2023
  • ExxonMobil Baytown Refinery Explosion – December 2021
  • TPC Houston Chemical Plant Explosion – November 2019
  • Celanese Corporation Pasadena Plant Explosion – September 2019
  • ExxonMobil Baytown Plant Explosion – July 2019
  • Kuraray America Eval Texas Chemical Plant Explosion – May 2019
  • KMCO Crosby Chemical Plant Explosion – April 2019
  • ITC Deer Park Plant Explosion – March 2019
  • ExxonMobil Baytown Complex Plan Explosion – March 2019
  • Cresson Chemical Plant Explosion – March 2018
  • Arkema Chemical Plant Explosion – August 2017

Our Petrochemical Fire and Explosion Lawyers Can Help

If the recent Shell Chemical Plant fire has impacted you or your business, you deserve to receive compensation for your losses. Our Houston petrochemical fire and explosion lawyers have extensive experience handling cases related to industrial accidents and can help you understand your legal options. With our guidance, you can focus on recovering from the incident while we work to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free initial consultation to learn more about how we can help.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only. The provision of this material does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this newsletter are not a substitute for legal counsel. Do not take action in reliance on the contents of this material without seeking the advice of counsel.

The information contained in this blog may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. Accordingly, information in this blog is not promised or guaranteed to be correct or complete, and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.


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