Wyoming Explosion at Gas Plant Prompts Evacuation of Nearby Town

Thursday, 24 Apr 2014 07:02 AM

By Michael Mullins

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An explosion at a Wyoming natural gas processing plant Wednesday prompted the evacuation of a nearby town and closure of a neighboring highway as an ensuing fire burned for several hours. No injuries were reported.

Located in Opal, Wyo., the plant removes carbon dioxide and other impurities from natural gas. It is capable of gathering up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day, which after being refined is then sent into pipelines that go to urban centers in the east, west and south, The Associated Press reported.

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In total, the facility, which is owned by Williams Companies Inc., is capable of processing approximately 2 percent of the daily U.S. gas supply, Reuters noted.

According to company spokeswoman Michele Swaner, all 42 of the employees at the plant were accounted for immediately after the blast occurred while make-shift shelters were set up for the displaced residents, which reportedly number around 100.

"We want to make sure everybody's taken care of and they're put up for the night if they're not able to go back to their houses," Swaner told reporters.

It is unclear when residents will be allowed to return to their home.

"They were downwind from the plant," Lincoln County Sheriff Shane Johnson told reporters late Wednesday. "The fire was still very active, and because of the nature of the processing that goes on there, that was the call that was made for safety reasons."

The explosion, which happened at about 2 p.m., occurred in a cryogenic processing tower, which chills unrefined natural gas to remove impurities, the AP noted. While the facility provides gas for a substantial amount of customers across the West and as far east as Ohio, demand for the gas is for the moment receding due to the fast approaching summer season, according to Williams Companies Inc.

On Wednesday, Renny MacKay, spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, told reporters that investigators would be looking into the cause of the explosion. No further details as to what might hjave been responsible for the explosion was released.

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