'It doesn't look safe at all': Air quality concerns rise after Shell facility fire in Deer Park

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Saturday, May 6, 2023
Expert says 'we got lucky' after large Shell plant fire in Deer Park
Deer Park residents were unsettled by the chemicals released by a large fire that broke out at a Shell refinery along State Highway 225 on Friday.

DEER PARK, Texas (KTRK) -- Any incident at a gas and oil refinery is certainly cause for concern, especially for people who live in the neighborhoods around the Shell refinery.

"This kind of stuff right here is still scary," a man named Vance told Eyewitness News as he looked at the smoke across State Highway 225 on Friday. He was unsettled by the hot orange flames and thick black smoke rising from the Shell refinery.

"It looks like a bunch of chemicals being released into the air, and it doesn't look safe at all," he said.

Harris County Pollution Control is monitoring the air quality, and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said there was no off-site impact. However, the University of Houston's vice president of energy and innovation, Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, said no one could know that for sure at this early stage.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Shell Deer Park fire: 9 contractors evaluated and released from hospital, company says

How Eyewitness News covered Deer Park plant fire on ABC13 at 4 p.m.

"The reason is, you've got incomplete burning of hydrocarbons," Krishnamoorti said. "Things like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, we call them hydrocarbons. That's crude oil. This is incomplete burning of it, which means some of those hydrocarbons are being released directly."

"What's the consequences of it? Who's going to actually claim responsibility?" Vance wondered.

Those answers won't come until after a chemical safety board completes a root cause analysis, according to Krishnamoorti. He said they will work to identify what went wrong and how to fix it.

He also said the fire sparked Friday by heavy gas oils could have been much worse.

"This happened in the middle of the day. They were able to identify it as a heat exchange," Krishnamoorti said, "It wasn't a reaction, reactor, or in a distillation column. In many ways, this is the kind of thing we can handle quite well with few repercussions. I would say we got lucky with this particular fire."

Air Alliance Houston was concerned about when that luck may run out. The group called for stronger safety regulations at refineries.

Shell did not make anyone available Friday to answer questions from ABC13.

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