Combating tank battery fires in West Texas

Midland County has systems in place to prevent, fight fires similar to Deer Park, officials say

Tank battery fires and how they’re dealt with in Midland County

MIDLAND, TX (KWES) - The chemical plant fire in Deer Park, Texas continues to send flames into the air, and with the oil and gas industry’s large presence, similar blazes are always a possibility in the Permian Basin.

West Texas has dealt with several tank battery fires in the past year and the Midland County Sheriff’s Office makes the necessary adjustments to contain the issue to the best of their ability.

“We’ll typically wait for someone from the company to show up to kinda tell us what’s in it, if any other wells need to be shut down, and if there’s product flowing into it,” said Justin Bunch, fire investigator.

It’s uncommon, but Midland has seen several fires in the last few years, mostly related to severe weather.

“Your small tank batteries that you just see out in the oilfield patch, you know, they’re enclosed dome lids," said Bunch. "If lightning strikes them, it’s just going to blow the lid off and catch fire.”

There’s a different procedure for large tank fires like the one in Deer Park.

“They’re designed to suppress fire when they catch fire, we’ve got a fire truck can pull up, hook up to some hoses and push water down a pipeline that goes up to the tank battery and there’s actually fire nozzles on the tank battery,” said Bunch.

The process used is crucial to keeping firefighters safe.

“That’s actually designed to shoot down into the seal of the floating lid of the tank so that way we don’t put firefighters in jeopardy,” said Bunch.

There’s no perfect answer for dealing with it.

“Sometimes, it’s best to just let it burn, it’s safer, sometimes it’s safer to extinguish it and try and shut it down,” said Bunch.

Bunch emphasized that the public should never put themselves in danger.

“If you see a tank battery, just call the fire department, stay away from it, if you’re sitting, driving down the road, don’t stop and get rear ended, just stay out of the way and let the emergency responders get to it,” said Bunch.

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