Small Wyoming town evacuated after gas explosion

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 23, 2014 at 10:27 pm •  Published: April 23, 2014
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OPAL, Wyo. (AP) — A small town in southwest Wyoming was evacuated Wednesday after an explosion and fire at a natural gas processing facility and major national pipeline hub. There were no reports of injuries.

The gas has been shut off, but people who were in Opal, about 100 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, went to an area about 3 miles outside of town as a precaution, said Lincoln County spokesman Stephen Malik. The town has about 95 residents.

"They were downwind from the plant," said Lincoln County Sheriff Shane Johnson. "The fire was still very active, and because of the nature of the processing that goes on there, that was the call that was made for safety reasons."

Johnson said he didn't know when people would be allowed back into Opal.

No structures in the town were affected, and the fire was confined to the facility operated by pipeline operator Williams Partners LP, county officials said.

The explosion occurred in the plant's cryogenic processing tower, a structure that chills unrefined natural gas to separate out impurities, but officials didn't yet know what caused the blast.

All employees at the gas processing plant were accounted for, Williams spokesman Tom Droege said.

The explosion was reported at about 2 p.m., and the fire continued to burn into the evening. Williams spokeswoman Michele Swaner said it was being allowed to burn itself out.

The gas processing plant in Opal removes carbon dioxide and other impurities from natural gas that comes from gas fields in the region. It can gather up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day, and it sends it into pipelines that go to urban centers to the east, west and south.

Williams Partners, based in Tulsa, Okla., said in a statement it has suspended collecting gas from surrounding areas and is looking for ways to resume production.

The Opal hub, where regional pipelines converge, is the principal spot where prices are set for natural gas produced from the large gas fields in western Wyoming and the San Juan Basin in Utah. The plant makes Opal perhaps best known as a regional gas-pricing hub. Government officials and industry insiders closely watch Opal hub prices to monitor trends with regional gas supply and demand.