A fire that erupted at midday Tuesday at the Mont Belvieu, TX, natural gas liquids (NGL) hub was under control within a few hours and was being allowed to burn out, according to owner and operator Enterprise Products Partners LP.

The facility is in Chambers County, about 35 miles east of Houston. People living near the facility reported hearing a series of as many as 11 small explosions; eyewitnesses reported seeing flames from the blast from high-rise buildings in downtown Houston.

A spokesman for the Mont Belvieu Police Department told NGI that the plant was rocked by a "series of explosions" around 12:15 p.m. CST. A tank reportedly exploded, and the resulting fire then spread to nearby vehicles and to at least one building.

According to Enterprise, the fire erupted at the facility's western NGL storage terminal. The main operating equipment had not been damaged and remained operational, including NGL fractionators, propylene fractionators, butane isomerization units, an octane enhancement facility, the north and east facilities, and the import/export terminals on the Houston Ship Channel.

"We do not believe the fire poses an immediate danger to the community," said Enterprise. No injuries had been reported Tuesday afternoon, but apparently one of the maintenance contract workers had not been located. Eight to 10 employees are on site at any given time.

"Once the fire is extinguished, Enterprise will be able more fully to assess damage to the facility," it stated.

No plans were made to extinguish the fire; Mont Belvieu and area firefighters planned to let the fire to burn out. Once the area is cool, the facility is to be examined to determine the fire's cause.

Operations at the Houston Ship Channel, which is south of the Mont Belvieu facility, were continuing without interruption, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman told NGI. There were incidental reports of production being slowed or halted briefly in nearby chemical facilities. Mont Belvieu supplies propane and ethane to many chemical producers in the area.

No evacuations were ordered; the flames were not considered toxic. A nearby school kept children inside following the fire, but buses ran at their usual time, a school official said.

The NGL fractionation facility is a key hub for both domestic and international gas supplies. The facility fractionates mixed NGLs from several supply basins in North America including the Midcontinent, Permian, San Juan, Rocky Mountains, East Texas and the Gulf Coast.

Last November Enterprise completed a fourth 75,000 b/d NGL fractionator at the facility to serve producing areas in the Rockies, as well as the Barnett and Eagle Ford shales (see Daily GPI, Dec. 1, 2010). The additional fractionator increased gross NGL capacity at the facility to around 305,000 b/d. A fifth 75,000 b/d fractionator is scheduled for completion early next year.

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