TEXAS CITY — At about 1:20 p.m. on March 23, 2005, an overflow of highly flammable material shot from a sub-unit at the BP Texas City refinery’s isomerization unit and was ignited by a truck’s idling diesel engine. That set off a cascade of explosions that leveled nearby office trailers, killing 15 people and injuring more than 170.
All 15 of those killed were contract workers, most of whom were working on the turnaround of BP’s ultracracker unit.
Many of the victims were in or around trailers located not far from an outdated blowdown stack. They had just attended a safety celebration luncheon recognizing a high-rate of safety performance on the ultracracker project.
None of the workers were notified of the pending restart of the nearby gasoline octane-boosting isomerization unit.
The explosions occurred when the isomerization unit’s distillation tower was flooded with volatile liquid hydrocarbons. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment did not work properly.
Those materials were sent to the blowdown stack and created a geyser-like release from the vent stack atop the blowdown stack.