An oil tanker truck near the eastern Montana town of Wibaux was still burning Wednesday night, five days after it destroyed an oil processing plant.
The Saturday fire injured three workers installing installation at the plant.
Deputy Coordinator of Wibaux County Disaster and Emergency Services Mike Schneider was talking on his cell phone from the site of Saturday’s explosion during a Wednesday interview.
He was working with other responders to find out how to stop the extra tank hooked to the back of a tanker delivery truck from burning. Flames were still coming out of vents at the top.
The original incident happened mid-afternoon on Saturday. The tanker truck was making its delivery to the Wibaux oil reclamation facility of Canadian-based Custom Carbon Processing.
Slop oil is what’s left over from a batch of crude oil that is too contaminated with things such as water or solids. Custom Carbon says it has developed a method for efficiently converting this left over oil to meet pipeline specifications. The company’s website says the process is safe, environmentally sustainable, and eco-friendly.
Wibaux officials say they are not entirely sure what was inside the tanker truck when it made its Saturday delivery. But Mike Schneider says it was some type of a condensate gas, which he says is used to thin or lighten the heavy crude oil.
Three workers were insulating the site’s unloading facility as the truck was pumping out its delivery.
“There was evidently a lot of fumes or vapors in the air and somehow those vapors ignited,” Schneider said. It created a flash explosion, setting the building and the back tank on fire. Schneider says when responders arrived they evacuated the injured men.
“There are a lot of other hazardous materials on location,” he said.”So we decided to just stay away until we found out what all was down there.”
A water tank and some small propane tanks exploded in the fire. But the other large tanks in the area were not lost. Schneider says these include larger propane tanks as well as tanks holding methane water and the slop oil.
The unloading facility was a total loss. Schneider says the injured men were taken to a hospital in Dickinson, North Dakota. Custom Carbon Processing says it is withholding comment until an investigation into the incident is complete.