A loud blast woke up residents in Sulphur, LA, after the Westlake Chemical facility conducted an emergency safety procedure.
The explosion was actually an emergency gas decompression at the polymers plant along Hwy 108, officials said.
The loud boom was caused by a process called “decomp” at its polymers facility, said Joe Andrepont with Westlake Chemical.
Andrepont said it’s been years since Lake Charles has had a decompression, but it happened so quickly even officials were taken by surprise.
Andrepont said the blast was a decompression process.
“Normally this takes from the process from a normal reaction to the completion of a fireball approximately five seconds,” he said.
Andrepont said that’s what happened at their Polymers Unit, when a pressure inside a reactor increases to the point a safety disc breaks, allowing the ethylene gas to release and ignite – lighting up the sky, burning off in a short fire, and create a loud boom.
“Our safety devices were in place, our employees were safe, they’re accounted for and they’re okay,” Andrepont said.
He said sound waves on the cool, clear night traveled across Southwest Louisiana and could be heard in Southeast Texas.
Andrepont said the ethylene released is burned away by the ignition.
There’s little notice when this emergency release is about to trigger, and the board operator doesn’t have time to notify everyone, he said.
“Certainly when you hear a loud boom and your windows rattle, you’re wondering what’s concerning,” he said. “You know you think of something that’s much more extreme.”
And while Andrepont assures that everyone is safe and there is no danger to the public, he said they’ll investigate and resume things as normal soon.
They finished their initial investigation March 15 and were back to using that part of the facility March 16.
“We’ll install a new pressure disc back into the reactor, get everything cleaned up and then will begin the process of starting the unit back up,” he said.
Sgt. James Anderson with Louisiana State Police confirmed there is no danger to the public.