Pipeline accident claims life of Texas man

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 16, 2009


ST. JAMES — An explosion and fire at a crude oil storage and pumping facility near Vacherie owned by Marathon Petroleum Co. claimed the life of a Texas man and injured several others Tuesday afternoon.

Armando Garza, 45, of Eagle Pass, Texas, was working with a group of contractors on an underground pipeline when the explosion occurred around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Angela Graves, a spokesperson for Marathon. She said Garza died from injuries suffered in the blast, which ignited a fire on the pipeline.

Graves said investigators with Marathon are trying to determine what exactly caused the explosion. Authorities with State Police said initial reports determined that the workers were welding a 2- to 4-inch pipe when vapors from a crude oil tank ignited. Emergency workers on the scene sprayed foam on the fire to extinguish the blaze. Garza’s body was recovered after the fire was put out.

Graves said three other men, who suffered serious burn injuries, were transported to local hospitals in Baton Rouge and St. James. She said two were released late Tuesday, while one remains hospitalized. The workers’ names were not being released at press time. Graves said three other workers were treated on site for minor injuries.

All of the workers, including Garza, are employees of Willbros Inc., a construction firm with offices in Texas and Oklahoma. Graves said the crew was working on a project that is part of a $3.2 billion expansion at Marathon’s Garyville refinery. The expansion, which began in 2007, is expected to be completed sometime this year and will increase production at the refinery by about 180,000 barrels. The project is expected to add about 7.5 million gallons a day to the nation’s transportation fuel supply.

Marathon Spokesman Robert Calmus said the pipeline facility in St. James stores and transports crude oil, which is then sent to the Garyville facility to be refined into gasoline, diesel fuel and kerosene. Neither Calmus nor Graves could elaborate on what kind of work was being done when the explosion occurred. The pipeline remains shut down while the investigation continues. Graves could not say whether the explosion affected production at the Garyville refinery.

Residents living near the facility heard and felt the affects of the explosion, but authorities with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said there was no environmental or health threat to the area following the fire.