Texas chemical plant explosions could affect North American tire, rubber production

Fire continues to burn at the TPC Group plant in Port Neches, Texas

A chemical manufacturing complex in southeast Texas was rocked by several explosions on Nov. 27, affecting production of synthetic rubber used for tires and hoses in the automotive industry.

No fatalities were reported, but officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for 50,000 people living within a four-mile radius of the TPC Group plant in Port Neches, Texas.

The first explosion occurred around 1 a.m., with three people sustaining injuries, according to a statement from the TPC Group, the plant’s owner. 

“TPC Group – is working with the authorities and are forming a team to complete a full investigation and root cause examination once the event has been mitigated,” the company said on its website.

There were 30 people at the plant when the first explosion occurred, according to the company. Further explosions occurred throughout the afternoon of Nov. 27, according to local officials

Fires were still burning at the plant on Nov. 28, with local officials indicating they would let the fire burn out.

“I don’t think the focus is on putting the fire out, but letting the materials in there burn themselves out,” said Jefferson County (Texas) Judge Jeff Branick at a press conference.

Jefferson County, Texas, includes the city of Port Neches, located around 95 miles east of Houston. The city is located along the Beaumont-Sabine Pass ship channel near the Gulf of Mexico.

The 218-acre TPC Group plant at Port Neches produces butadiene and raffinate, and stores a  gasoline additive called methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE).

Butadiene is used in the production of synthetic rubber used for tires and automobile hoses. The plant produces around 16% of North America’s butadiene, according to petrochemical data provider ICIS.

TPC Group’s customers have included Goodyear Tires, Firestone Tires and the Dow Chemical Company.

“Combined production capacity for this facility is more than 900 million pounds per year [of butadiene and raffinate]. Logistics infrastructure capabilities [at the Port Neches site] include pipeline, barge, rail and tank car,” the company said on its website. 

The company has not made any announcements about when production at the Port Neches plant could resume.

“TPC has not yet determined the full impact on TPC’s plant, operations or financials. It is not clear at this time for how long the plant will be shut down,” the company said.