WHITING, Ind. — An explosion at BP oil refinery in northwestern Indiana along Lake Michigan rattled nearby homes and sparked a fire that was later extinguished, but it didn’t cause any major injuries or halt production at the facility, a company official said Thursday.
The explosion Wednesday night at the Whiting refinery, which is just east of Chicago, was caused by “an operational incident” on a processing unit, BP America spokesman Scott Dean said. It happened about 9 p.m. and was extinguished by the plant’s fire department within a couple of hours.
One employee was taken to a hospital as a precaution, but was later released, Dean said. Refinery operations were “minimally” affected by the fire, he said.
Dean said the cause of the explosion was under investigation and that he didn’t immediately know whether it caused any chemical releases from the refinery that has a residential neighborhood running along its western border.
Dan Goldblatt, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said Thursday that he didn’t know if any air quality problems had been reported because of the explosion.
A Whiting Fire Department spokesman said the blast could be heard clearly several blocks from the plant. However, when fire commanders called plant officials to see whether assistance was needed, they were told only to stand by.
The explosion follows a malfunction at the refinery in March that the company said spilled up to 1,600 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan. Crews spent several days cleaning up oil along the shoreline.
The refinery covers about 1,400 acres along the lake’s shoreline.
BP completed work in late 2013 on a $4.2 billion expansion and upgrade of the refinery that will make it a top processor of heavy crude oil extracted from Canada’s tar sand deposits.
Wednesday’s explosion came on the anniversary of a 1955 blast at the refinery that threw debris onto nearby neighborhoods, killing a 3-year-old boy as he slept and causing fires that burned for eight days, according to the Whiting Public Library’s website.