A fire at an eastern Montana oil recycling facility that injured three workers is being allowed to burn because of the danger of more explosions.
Wibaux County Disaster and Emergency Services spokesman Mike Schneider said Sunday he and fire crews have been watching the fire from about a quarter mile away. The facility near the town of Wibaux close to the Montana-North Dakota state line is at the edge of the Bakken crude patch.
"We're not equipped to deal with it," Schneider said. "Prudence would just say stay away with so much stuff around. It's not worth sending someone in."
He said the fire started Saturday afternoon at a Custom Carbon Processing facility and is limited to the trailer of a tanker truck and a large, three-sided structure that has been destroyed. He said the facility has eight large storage tanks that appear to be OK. He also said the tanker truck itself does not appear to be burning but is apparently still running and pumping material from the trailer. Estimates of damage were not available.
Flames are coming from the top of the trailer and the trailer tank is still intact, though the tires have burned away. The trailer on Sunday afternoon appeared to be half full judging by what Schneider called a frost line on the trailer's side. He said it was unclear how long the fire could burn.
"All the experts around here say the safest thing to do is let this back pup trailer tank burn off," Schneider said. "We could go in and smother it, possibly, but then you would be spreading everything else around."
He said he didn't know the extent of the injuries sustained by the workers, but that at least two of them were taken to a hospital in Dickinson, N.D. A spokeswoman at St. Joseph's Hospital in Dickinson declined to release any information.
Custom Carbon Processing officials did not return calls from The Associated Press on Sunday.
Schneider said the fire started with a flash explosion as the truck's operator was pumping the trailer's flammable contents into the structure where the three workers were putting in insulation. It's unclear what ignited the fire, though early speculation among fire officials is centering on space heaters.
Schneider said the processing facility was built within the last several years at an old well site. The region in recent years has seen an influx of companies seeking to profit from the pool of oil that lies beneath western North Dakota, northeast Montana and part of Canada.
Custom Carbon Processing on its website said it uses a complex process to convert residual wastes, called slop oil, from the oil producing process that would otherwise be discarded and turns it into pipeline-grade oil the company sells to oil buyers.
According to the website, the company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Green Oasis Environmental Inc. That company lists its headquarters as being in Edmonton, Alberta, and has an office in Gillette, Wyo. Officials at that company did not respond to requests for information from the AP on Sunday.