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Fire Being Allowed to Burn Out After Natural Gas Plant Explosion

Anadarko Petroleum is still waiting to assess the damage from an explosion Thursday morning (December 3) at its natural gas plant near the town of Orla in West Texas.

A fire at the Ramsey Natural Gas Plant near the New Mexico border led to an explosion Thursday around 10 AM that was seen and heard for miles across West Texas.

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A man working nearby, who asked not to be named because he didn’t have permission from his employer to speak to reporters, said he felt the blast, saying it shook his one-ton pickup truck. 

Smoke from the explosion was visible as far south as the I-10 corridor near Balmorhea, about 80 miles away.

Anadarko says the fire has been contained to one section of the plant, where the company is letting it burn out before they can safely go in and assess the damage. There’s still no word on what caused the fire, and it’s not yet clear how out of 200 people working near the plant at the time of the explosion, only two suffered minor injuries - a scraped knee and a sunburn, according to the Reeves County Sheriff's Office.

Anadarko Spokesperson John Christiansen said expansions were ongoing at the plant, and that workers were scattered throughout the area when the explosion happened.

"To have only two people suffer very minor injuries in this is an amazing outcome," he said.

Anadarko runs the plant, but Western Gas Partners, LP owns it. The company acquired the plant when it bought Nuevo Midstream last year.

In July, OSHA cited the company with three safety violations related to managing hazardous chemicals. 

Christiansen says those violations were inherited from the plant’s former owners, and that Western Gas addressed and resolved the issues after the citations.

OSHA teams are currently on site investigating. There’s no timeline yet on when the plant will reopen. In the meantime, Anadarko is praising the efforts of first responders who helped evacuate workers and provided them with food and water.

"Just an amazing example of communities reaching out in a time of need and helping everyone," Christiansen said.

The company says it won't have an idea of the financial impact from the explosion and the shuttering of the plant until the fire burns out and the damage can be inspected.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.