Video: Refinery fire on the Delaware

updated 5/18/2009 10:56:06 AM ET 2009-05-18T14:56:06

Firefighters contained a blaze early Monday caused by an overnight explosion at a Delaware oil refinery that rattled nearby homes but caused no injuries.

A fireball from the blast at Sunoco Inc.'s Marcus Hook facility lit up the sky Sunday night. Fire trucks sprayed down flames shooting high into the air at the complex straddling the Delaware/Pennsylvania border.

The fire was under control Monday morning, but still burning, Sunoco Inc. spokesman Thomas Golembeski said. The company won't be able to assess the extent of the damage until it is safe to go in to the area.

Authorities and company officials said no injuries were reported and no evacuations of surrounding neighborhoods were ordered.

The 781-acre complex ranks 39th by total production out of the nation's 150 operating refineries, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Golembeski said the blast hit an area that makes a chemical used in plastics and declined to say if any gasoline production was affected. Experts say there is plenty of gasoline supply nationwide because Americans are driving billions fewer miles in the recession.

All workers at the plant have been accounted for, Golembeski said.

The refinery was still open Monday morning and some production employees were reporting to work,

Golembeski said the company was monitoring air quality every hour and the readings indicated that "the situation is safe."

New Castle County, Del., county councilman John Cartier said he could see the flames from his home at least three miles from the refinery and he felt the blast.

"It was almost like seismic," he told The (Wilmington) News Journal. "My house was rocked. It was a big large boom."

Investigation under way
Authorities were still trying to determine what caused the explosion, which occurred at the refinery's ethylene complex. Ethylene is a feed stock used in the production of plastics. A Sunoco chemical plant adjacent to the refinery produces polypropylene.

Golembeski said the explosion and fire was contained to the ethylene unit inside the refinery and did not affect the chemical plant.

But some refining production in other units was affected, and he said the company was working with two of its upriver refineries — at Philadelphia and Westville, N.J. — to "optimize production" and meet customer demands.

He did not specify how much production was affected at facility that processes about 175,000 barrels of sweet crude oil per day into various petroleum products including gasoline, jet fuel and home heating oil.

The refinery adjoins an international seaport and operates around the clock seven days a week with about 700 employees. It refines oil primarily from fields in the North Sea and West Africa.

More on Sunoco   |  Refineries

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