Blasting set at Barbour explosion site

PHILIPPI — A facility that was the site of two explosions earlier this year in which three people were killed will now undergo a clean-up operation this month that will include blasting, the Barbour County Office of Emergency Management announced Wednesday.

The deadly explosions, at Midland Resource Recovery Inc., on U.S. 119 near Arden, occurred in May and June, with the first taking place at the company’s tank decommission site. The company specializes in odorants to provide smell to natural gas.

The May explosion took the lives of two individuals, including the owner of MRR, while the June explosion killed an employee of Specialized Professional Services, Inc., a contractor hired to help clean up the site.

In both cases, authorities believed older tanks exploded while workers were attempting to depressurize and decommission them. Representatives of both OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency were on the site at the time of the second explosion, officials said.

The explosions are being investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Wednesday’s press release states “special operations are needed to address obsolete natural gas odorizers” at the site. “During these operations, you may hear explosive blasting.”

The release says MRR intends to “safely control and mitigate” a “small quantity” of “natural gas odorizing vessels at the Philippi facility.” These vessels have “exhibited the potential of failure” and “will be rendered safe using proven industrial mitigation techniques.”

MRR is bringing in a “professional team of industry experts” to make the vessels safe by using “small explosion perforation charges,” the release states, adding the charges will be activated remotely.

The operations will run from Dec. 8 to Dec. 22, the release states, with the blasting operations expected to last three to four days during that time frame, officials said. The operations will be limited from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The blasting dates may change due to weather conditions, and the ability to close Barbour County highways and evacuate the residences within half a mile of the MRR site.

The release says, “Procedure industry controls will be installed to protect the adjacent vessels, workers and the community from exposure to debris, pressure or sound. Chemical suppression techniques will be employed to reduce the potential for mitigation of chemical vapor or liquids offsite into the surrounding community.”

“Onsite and community air and environmental monitoring” will be conducted during the operations to “assess the potential for impact to worker and public health,” the release states.

Residences and businesses within half a mile of the facility will be asked to evacuate, and have already been contacted, officials said.

Road closures will include the Barbour County Highway and Arden Road, and will be announced in advance, the release states.

MRR, which has been in operation since 1996, has an equipment processing facility in Philippi and facilities in Lakewood, Colorado, and Lancaster, Ontario.

At the time of the first explosion in May, the Philippi facility employed about 15 full-time employees and served as the primary operation center for the company, officials said.