Nonessential personnel sent home at Houston refinery complex

By Ann de Rouffignac
OGJ Online

By Paula Dittrick
Oil & Gas Journal

HOUSTON, Sept. 11, 2001 – Nonessential personnel at much of Houston’s massive refinery and petrochemical refinery complex were released to go home at about 11 a.m. CST Tuesday.

Earlier, the world’s largest refining and chemical complex went on heightened security after apparent attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.

A spokesman for Shell Oil Co.’s refinery in Deer Park, Tex., said all personnel not required to “maintain and run” the refinery safely were sent home. Spokesman Dave McKinney said the company will reassess its position Wednesday. Meanwhile, the refinery is still operating under conditions similar to preparation for a “hurricane,” he said.

Industry sources said three other large refiners in the area have also released nonessential personnel.

Officials with most refineries in the area would not detail what extra security measures were being taken. But most said “appropriate” steps were being implemented. Similarly, pipeline companies were taking extra precautions.

Downtown Houston office towers, including the headquarters of Shell Oil Co., Enron Corp., and El Paso Corp., were closed for the day.

Sam Pipkin with the Channel Industries Mutual Aid organization, the coordinator for emergency response for refineries and chemical plants on the Houston Ship Channel, said most plants in the area were holding meetings and the mutual aid group was about to have a management meeting.

Both ExxonMobil Corp. and Shell Oil Co., Houston, operate refineries and chemical plants in the area and reported having taken “appropriate steps” given the level of the national “tragic events” unfolding, an Exxon spokesman said.

ExxonMobil Chemical Co. spokesman Russ Roberts said the company also was taking “appropriate” steps worldwide.

A unit of Germany’s Bayer AG also instituted security measures and asked that any suspicious activities be reported to its emergency command center in Baytown, Tex., also on the Houston Ship Channel. Meetings were held at the Baytown city hall Tuesday morning to discuss security measures.

Some of the precautions being taken by refineries included reducing the traffic into and out of the facilities, especially deliveries, said one industry source. Spot checking of personnel exiting the facilities was increased.

“We are pretty secure as it is,” said Roberts.

A spokeswoman for El Paso Corp. said emergency response plan are in place at the company’s pipelines, field offices, gas processing facilities, and power plants. “Everything has been secured,” she said.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association in Washington reported no petroleum-related terrorist incidents or threats. The American Petroleum Institute headquarters had received no reports of any petroleum-related damages or threats, said Juan Palomo, API spokeswoman.

“None at all,” Palomo said. The API headquarters was unaffected by the acts of terrorism elsewhere in Washington, he said.

Enron Corp. allowed nonessential Houston employees to go home if they wanted to, spokeswoman Meredith Philipp told OGJ Online. She denied reports that the building had been evacuated.

“We have no reason to fear for our employees’ safety,” Philipp said. She said many employees were leaving work to return home, but no immediate numbers were available.

Houston Mayor Lee Brown said the city’s two airports were accepting landings but no planes were departing. “The Houston FBI currently assessing the threat potential,” he said. “At this time, we have no information to indicate a problem here in Houston.

“We have not called for any evacuations in Houston. Some businesses and some schools have implemented early dismissals. We have advised employers to use their discretion.”

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