A fire at a Magellan oil storage tank in Corpus Christi injured seven workers on the morning of Saturday, December 5. First responders arrived on the scene at about 10 AM.
Contractors from Shelton Services were cleaning Magellan's light crude tank when the fire ignited. Near 11 AM, residents were warned to stay home until the circumstances of the incident were established. The warning was lifted around midday while dark smoke clouds still obscured the South Texas sky.
Corpus Christi's oil and gas workers have fallen victim to several tragic incidents in 2020. In September, there was a massive gas leak from an unmanned platform off the city's coast. In August, a dredging vessel hit an underwater pipeline, causing an explosion and killing four people.
Six workers who suffered burn injuries at the Magellan facility were initially taken to the Christus Spohn Hospital-Shoreline. Four patients in critical condition and one in stable condition were later transferred to a San Antonio hospital. One patient had suffered only minor injuries and was discharged. On Sunday, Shelton said in a statement that five workers remained at Brooke Army Medical Center, while the sixth patient had been released from the hospital on Saturday.
According to Magellan, the injured workers were "cleaning an above ground storage tank in preparation for inspection when a fire developed." The company said in a press release that they don't know what caused the incident. "The fire has been extinguished," they added. "Air quality readings at the facility and surrounding area remain safe. There are no road closures or evacuations related to this incident."
Magellan's CEO Mike Mears said the companyholds safety as its "highest standard." But the CEO's offering of "thoughts and prayers" for the injured and their families is not going to nurse the sick back to health or compensate them for the terrible trauma of the explosion or the steep medical bills that await them.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement that the State was "working closely with Magellan and Corpus Christi officials to aid in the emergency response efforts" and "monitoring air quality in the area."
Thanks to the Refinery Terminal Fire Company’s efforts, the Corpus Christi Fire Department, and the Corpus Christi Police Department, a bigger tragedy was averted. But that made no difference to the severely burned workers who might still be healthy if Magellan had created a safer working environment for them.
Hiring contractors to do hazardous work is a known tactic of oil and gas companies to shun liability when serious accidents occur. Companies typically blame accidents on contractors, contractors often blame workers, and insurers usually play along. The result typically is that workers and their families rarely get the compensation they deserve unless they sue with the help of an experienced oilfield and chemical plant injury attorney.
According to the U.S. Department of State, Magellan Midstream Partners is dedicated to transporting, storing, and distributing crude and refined petroleum products. It is present in 23 states and boasts 1,300 employees, 83 terminals, over 9,000 miles of refined products pipeline, and 800 miles of crude pipeline. In 2017, Magellan Pipeline paid $18 million to resolve allegations that it spilled over 5,000 barrels of oil due to various pipeline incidents in Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas. Magellan's Corpus Christi plant has 60 tanks and a small refinery.
Shelton Services, Inc. "conducts turn-key services for bulk liquid tank cleaning to safely remove materials such as crude oil, wastewater, petrochemicals, and finished products as well as other industrial field services," according to the company's website.
Another Preventable Tragedy
Speaking at City Hall on the day of the incident, Deputy Fire Chief Richie Quintero said the investigation into the causes of the fire "will be a large effort." He also said he hopes to find "something that could be fixed...so that we can hopefully put preventative measures in place."
The problem is, we don't need an oil tank to burst into flames to know what preventative measures are needed. The science and the technology are already available, but the industry keeps lobbying politicians to keep safety regulations at a minimum. And they have been quite successful so far.
According to OSHA, "Hazards encountered in petroleum and petrochemical storage tanks include, fire or explosion, asphyxiation, toxicity, entrapment, falls, and physical and chemical hazards including steam, heat, noise, cold and electrical shock. These hazards can be a result of the presence of hazardous gases, vapors, fumes, cleaning chemicals, dusts, improper or insufficient lockout-tagout, or excessive heat or cold. Additionally, the creation of an oxygen-deficient or oxygen-rich atmosphere may cause serious injury or death."
The National Institute for Storage Tank Management lists the following reasons for lack of information about fires and explosions at aboveground storage tanks:
- Tank owners' lawyers' efforts to conceal the truth
- Insurance company lawyers efforts to conceal the truth
- Operators' efforts to avoid liability
- Lack of a central database of information
- Lax international regulations
- Little or misleading information from official sources
- Destruction of evidence
Oil and gas companies usually do the absolute minimum to ensure they can operate legally, especially when it comes to safety. A 2016 article titled "Liquid Hydrocarbon Storage Tank Fires – How Prepared is your Facility?" stated, "Hydrocarbon storage tank fires present peculiar hazards that should require owners and managers... to exercise adequate diligence with respect to the prevention, protection and emergency preparedness suitable for managing risks associated with hydrocarbons storage fire and explosion events." After reviewing decades of tank fires, the authors concluded oil storage tank fires are rare but keep happening despite "the various engineering and fire protection improvements learned from previous fire incidents and furnished in different codes and standards such as NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and API (American Petroleum Institute)."
The article, published in Chemical Engineering Transactions, explains that it is not enough to have safety reports and procedures, inbuilt safety features, and firefighting systems. "Experience has shown that oil tank fires still occur due to lapses in prevention measures," the author wrote, "and in some cases, such fires progressed to catastrophic dimensions due to inadequacies in fire pre-plans and emergency preparedness."
If they sue the companies involved and their insurers, the victims of the Magellan tank fire could potentially receive tens of millions of dollars in compensation for their injuries, lost wages, medical costs, mental anguish, and pain and suffering.
Explosions, chemical fume leaks and fires are tragically common. Even more disturbing, they are often preventable.
Victims of catastrophic plant fires and oil refinery accidents can suffer both physical and mental trauma. We have seen many workers dealing with severe burns, permanent disfigurement and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Our experienced Corpus Christi and North Dakota-based lawyers know how difficult recovery can be and are committed to collecting the maximum financial compensation for our clients - including lost wages, current and future medical expenses, and more.