WY natural gas plant fire forces town evacuation

An explosion at a Southwestern Wyoming natural gas processing plant Wednesday afternoon forced the evacuation of a nearby town, a precautionary step for fear the fire could have escalated, an emergency official said.

Jay Hokanson, Lincoln County emergency management coordinator, said no injuries were reported in relation to the explosion and subsequent fire. Hokanson said the fire was contained by about 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Hokanson, who was not on the scene, said the whole town of Opal, about 100 people, was evacuated save for emergency personnel. He said the town would remain evacuated overnight Wednesday.

Larry Burris, the supervisor of operations for the plant near Opal, said all workers have been accounted for. The plant is operated by the Williams Companies.

Williams spokeswoman Michele Swaner said the plant immediately followed procedures to “shut in” — shut off all gas flowing within the system.

The cause of the fire is being investigated, Swaner said. It is believed to have started in a “TXP3 train,” one of five cryogenic processing plants at the site.

“It will take time to investigate,” Swaner said.

The plant’s 42 employees were safely evacuated. The company was planning to pay for Opal residents to stay at hotels in nearby Kemmerer on Wednesday night, she said.

The governor’s office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon stating the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security and other state personnel were on standby if local officials requested assistance.

The fire prompted the Wyoming Department of Transportation to close U.S. Highway 30, which runs near the plant, in both directions between Kemmerer and Opal. Wyoming Highway 240 was closed between Opal and U.S. Highway 189.

Both were still closed as of press time.

Hokanson did not have an estimate on the extent of the damage to the plant.

The Opal gas processing plant is one of the larger in Wyoming, according to Brian Jeffries, executive director of the Wyoming Pipeline Authority.

Jeffries said the plant has a capacity of upward of one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and that most of that gas is destined for California and the west coast. The company, which is publicly traded, also operates a plant in Echo Springs.

via Opal natural gas plant fire forces town evacuation.

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