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Fire sidelines Huntsman plant

May 8, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 19

An explosion rattled Huntsman Corp.'s Port Arthur, Texas, ethylene cracker on the morning of Saturday, April 29, and a fire burned there until the following Monday. The plant's 50 workers were evacuated safely from the unit, but severe damage could take several months to repair. The explosion, which occurred in the propylene refrigeration unit at the plant, is being investigated by Huntsman and the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board. The plant has an annual capacity of 1.4 billion lb of ethylene. Because of the Port Arthur outage and what Nova Chemicals calls "limited ethylene availability on the U.S. Gulf Coast," Nova is temporarily idling its styrene plant in Bayport, Texas. Mark Eramo, vice president for olefins at the consulting firm Chemical Market Associates, says the Huntsman outage could influence North American ethylene prices and cause supply disruptions around the Port Arthur area over the short term. But, he notes, the fire, plus a maintenance outage at the Atofina Petrochemicals/BASF joint-venture cracker in Port Arthur, isn't likely to be very disruptive to the ethylene market. "It is not an unusual amount of capacity to be off-line," he says, adding that a bigger impact will be a surge in buying in anticipation of rising ethylene prices.


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