Smoke at Exxon refinery in Beaumont due to power outage

By Eric Besson and Brandon Scott
Beaumont Enterprise

A site-wide power outage Thursday at Exxon Mobil’s Beaumont refinery required operators to empty their systems by burning the product, the source of large flames and plumes of black smoke that prompted a closure and shelter-in-place order at neighboring colleges, officials said.

A refinery spokesman said no one was injured and there was no cause for alarm following the 3 p.m. outage. Non-essential personnel were “dismissed” from the facility.

“We are responding to the event and an investigation will be conducted,” spokesman Lee Dula said. “We cannot speculate about cause at this time.”

Bill Abercrombie, a resident on Madison Avenue within a stone’s throw from the facility, said he had never seen flames that size coming from the stacks.

“It was really bizarre,” Abercrombie said. “I was glad the wind was blowing in the opposite direction so I didn’t have to breathe that stuff in. I didn’t know what was burning but, whatever it is, it can’t be good for you.”

Afternoon classes at nearby Lamar University were cancelled, but evening classes resumed at 5:30 p.m., according to university spokesperson Brian Sattler.

The neighboring Lamar Institute of Technology cancelled evening classes and said it planned to resume Friday morning.

The refinery processes 365,000 barrels of crude oil per day and produces 2.8 billion gallons of gasoline annually, the company has said.

In November, state regulators fined ExxonMobil’s Beaumont refinery nearly $20,000 for two incidents that violated its emissions permit.

In the first, which began Aug. 15, 2014, a nearly 70-hour flare at the refinery released 18,363 pounds of carbon monoxide and 16,300 pounds of volatile organic compounds, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Beginning Oct. 2 of that year, the refinery released nearly 3,000 pounds of VOCs, according to regulators.

Follow the Beaumont Enterprise for continuing updates.