A petroleum refinery explosion in White Lake Township, Michigan in November was heard and felt for miles around. Residents report the initial blast knocking items off walls, scaring children and animals, and sending a plume of flames and dark smoke rising well above the tree line. While there are no physical injuries reported in this explosion, incidents like this one serve as a stark reminder of how volatile refineries are, and the impact that explosions have on nearby communities.

The team at Kherkher Garcia is thankful that no one was injured in this petroleum refinery explosion. So often, that is not the case. Below, our petrochemical injury lawyers share some insight into refinery explosions, the hazards and injuries, and how readers can get help if they, or someone they know, is injured in an explosion.

Michigan Petroleum Refinery Explosion Information

On November 24, 2023, a major explosion and fire erupted at a crude oil refinery plant in White Lake Township, Michigan. The incident occurred around 10:00 p.m. and quickly engulfed the refinery in flames. The explosion and fire caused significant damage to the refinery.

Several fire departments from surrounding communities responded to the fire and were able to extinguish it after several hours. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is investigating the cause of the fire. EGLE has also initiated air monitoring to ensure the safety of residents in the area.

The fire was contained within the refinery’s secondary containment system, and there were no reported releases of hazardous materials. However, residents in White Lake Township are concerned about the potential health and environmental impacts of the fire. They are also demanding answers about the cause of the explosion and what is being done to prevent future incidents.

What are the Common Causes of Petroleum Refinery Explosions?

Petroleum refineries are complex industrial facilities that handle highly flammable and hazardous materials. The risk of explosions in refineries can arise from various factors, and the most common causes include:

Equipment Failure

Malfunction or failure of equipment, such as pumps, compressors, valves, or storage tanks, can lead to leaks, overpressure, or ignition of flammable materials. Corrosion, fatigue, or inadequate maintenance contribute to equipment failures.

Human Error

Human factors, including mistakes in operations, miscommunication, inadequate training, or procedural errors, can result in incidents leading to explosions. Improper handling of equipment, failure to follow safety protocols, or lack of awareness about potential hazards can be significant contributors.

Combustible Materials Release

Accidental release of combustible materials like hydrocarbons, gases, or volatile chemicals due to leaks, spills, or overflows can create flammable atmospheres. These materials, when exposed to an ignition source, can lead to explosions.

Ignition Sources

Various ignition sources such as static electricity, electrical sparks, welding, open flames, hot surfaces, or even lightning strikes can trigger explosions when they come into contact with flammable materials.

Process Upsets or Overpressurization

Upsets in the refining process, sudden pressure increases, or loss of control in reaction vessels or distillation units can lead to overpressurization. This can result in equipment rupture and subsequent ignition.

Inadequate Maintenance and Inspections

Lack of proper maintenance, inadequate inspections, or deferred maintenance of equipment and infrastructure can lead to deteriorating conditions, weakening structures, and increased risks of failures or leaks.

Chemical Reactions and Runaway Reactions

Uncontrolled chemical reactions due to mixing incompatible materials, process upsets, or temperature or pressure deviations can result in runaway reactions, causing explosions.

Design Flaws or Inadequate Safety Measures

Poor design of equipment, systems, or facilities, as well as insufficient safety measures or outdated safety protocols, can contribute to vulnerabilities and increased risks within the refinery.

Lack of Emergency Response Preparedness

Inadequate emergency response plans, inadequate training of personnel in handling emergencies, or delays in responding to incidents can exacerbate the impact of potential explosions.

Common Injuries in Petroleum Refinery Explosions and Fires

Petroleum refinery explosions and fires can result in severe injuries due to the highly hazardous nature of the materials involved and the intensity of the incidents. Common injuries that individuals may sustain in such catastrophic events include:

Burn Injuries

Among the most prevalent injuries in refinery explosions and fires are burns. These injuries can range from minor to severe, including first-degree (superficial), second-degree (partial thickness), and third-degree (full thickness) burns. Thermal burns occur due to direct exposure to flames, hot surfaces, or steam generated during the incident.

Traumatic Injuries

Explosions can cause traumatic injuries such as lacerations, fractures, contusions, and blunt force trauma. Flying debris, collapsing structures, or being thrown by the force of the explosion can result in various types of injuries.

Respiratory Injuries

Inhalation of smoke, toxic gases, or chemical fumes released during refinery fires can cause respiratory issues ranging from irritation and coughing to more severe conditions such as chemical pneumonitis or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Head and Brain Injuries

Trauma to the head can occur due to the impact of flying debris, falls, or explosions. Head injuries can range from concussions and contusions to more severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI), causing long-term cognitive impairment.

Eye Injuries

Exposure to intense heat, smoke, or chemical substances can lead to eye injuries, including irritation, burns, corneal damage, or vision impairment.

Chemical Exposure and Toxicity

Contact with hazardous chemicals released during refinery incidents can cause chemical burns, skin irritation, poisoning, or systemic toxicity. These exposures can have immediate effects or result in long-term health complications.

Psychological Trauma

Survivors of refinery explosions and fires often endure psychological trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions due to the traumatic nature of the incident.

Internal Injuries

Blast waves generated during explosions can cause internal injuries, including damage to organs, internal bleeding, or ruptured eardrums (barotrauma).

Musculoskeletal Injuries

Individuals might experience sprains, strains, fractures, or musculoskeletal injuries due to falls, impact, or attempting to escape from the scene.

Smoke Inhalation and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Inhaling smoke can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, causing symptoms like headache, dizziness, nausea, and in severe cases, loss of consciousness or death due to oxygen deprivation.

Preventing injuries in petroleum refinery incidents requires strict adherence to safety protocols, rigorous training of personnel in emergency response procedures, regular safety drills, proper maintenance of equipment, and the implementation of risk mitigation measures. Additionally, providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and swift medical attention for injured individuals are crucial steps in minimizing the severity and impact of injuries in such hazardous situations.

What are Environmental Concerns after a Petroleum Refinery Explosion?

Petroleum refinery explosions can lead to significant environmental concerns due to the release of various hazardous materials, air pollutants, and potential contamination of soil, water, and air. While the explosion discussed above did not, reportedly, involve the release of hazardous materials, it is important for readers to be aware of the hazards. An unfortunate reality is that many refinery explosions do result in environmental contamination. Environmental concerns after a petroleum refinery explosion may include:

Air Pollution

Refinery explosions and fires release a mixture of pollutants, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and other toxic gases. These emissions can degrade air quality in the surrounding area, leading to respiratory issues, exacerbating asthma, and posing health risks to nearby communities.

Chemical Spills and Contamination

Explosions may cause spills or leaks of crude oil, refined petroleum products, or other hazardous chemicals stored within the refinery. These substances can contaminate soil, surface water, groundwater, and nearby water bodies, leading to long-term environmental damage and impacting ecosystems.

Water Contamination

Runoff from firefighting efforts or damaged storage tanks can carry pollutants and hazardous chemicals into nearby water sources. This contamination can harm aquatic life, disrupt ecosystems, and affect drinking water sources for communities in the vicinity.

Soil Contamination

Spilled petroleum products and chemicals can seep into the soil, leading to soil contamination. This can impact soil quality, hinder plant growth, and pose risks to human health if these contaminants leach into groundwater.

Ecological Impacts

Contamination of water bodies, soil, and air can have adverse effects on local flora and fauna. The release of pollutants into ecosystems can disrupt habitats, harm wildlife, and lead to long-term ecological imbalances.

Fire and Smoke Damage

Intense heat and smoke from refinery fires can damage vegetation, crops, and nearby infrastructure. The deposition of soot and ash can also impact local vegetation and agricultural lands.

To address environmental concerns after a refinery explosion, immediate response efforts focus on containing the spread of pollutants, assessing the extent of environmental damage, and implementing cleanup and remediation strategies. Regulatory bodies, environmental agencies, and the refinery’s management collaborate to mitigate the environmental impact, restore affected areas, and safeguard the health and wellbeing of both the environment and nearby communities.

What to Do if Someone is Injured in a Petroleum Refinery Explosion

If someone is injured in a petroleum refinery explosion, it’s crucial to take immediate action to ensure their safety and provide them with appropriate medical attention. Here are steps to take:

Ensure Personal Safety

Prioritize safety for yourself and others. Move away from the immediate danger zone to a safe location to avoid further injuries or harm.

Assess the Situation

Evaluate the severity of the injuries and the condition of the injured person. Check for any immediate dangers, such as fire, smoke, or leaking chemicals, before approaching the injured individual.

Call for Emergency Medical Assistance

Dial 911 immediately to request medical assistance. Provide clear and precise information about the location, the number of injured individuals, and the nature of the injuries.

Administer First Aid if Trained

If you have basic first aid training and it’s safe to do so, provide initial first aid to the injured person. This might include controlling bleeding, stabilizing fractures, or performing CPR if necessary, but only if you are trained and confident in doing so.

Do Not Move Injured Individuals Unnecessarily

Unless there is an immediate threat to their safety, avoid moving injured individuals, especially if they have sustained spinal or neck injuries, as moving them might worsen their condition.

Inform Authorities and Refinery Personnel

Notify refinery authorities or supervisors about the incident and the injured person’s status. Follow the established emergency protocols within the refinery to ensure that proper procedures are followed.

Cooperate with Emergency Responders

Upon the arrival of emergency medical services, provide them with any relevant information about the incident, the injured person’s condition, and any first aid administered. Follow their instructions and cooperate fully.

Document the Incident

If you’re involved in the refinery or have witnessed the incident, document details such as the time, location, circumstances, and injuries sustained. This information might be valuable for investigations or legal purposes later on.

Remember, the priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the injured individual. Immediate medical attention is crucial, so do not delay in seeking professional help. Cooperation with emergency responders and refinery authorities is essential to ensure a prompt and effective response to the situation.

Should I Contact a Lawyer after a Petroleum Refinery Explosion

Whether or not you should contact a lawyer after a petroleum refinery explosion depends on several factors, including:

  • Injuries: If you sustained any injuries, no matter how minor, it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately. You should also consult a lawyer to discuss your legal options and potential compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
  • Property Damage: If your property was damaged in the explosion, you may be entitled to compensation for repairs or replacements. A lawyer can help you assess the damage and file a claim with the responsible party’s insurance company.
  • Exposure to Hazardous Materials: If you were exposed to hazardous materials during the explosion, you may be at risk for long-term health problems. A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options for pursuing compensation for any future medical expenses or lost wages.
  • Cause of the Explosion: If the refinery is found to be negligent in causing the explosion, you may have a strong case for compensation. A lawyer can investigate the cause of the explosion and help you gather evidence to support your claim.

Benefits of Working with a Skilled Petrochemical Injury Lawyer

At Kherkher Garcia, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive legal guidance and support to individuals who are injured due to negligence – be it an industrial accident, car accident, workplace injury, or slip and fall. Some of the benefits of working with our lawyers after a petroleum refinery explosion include:

  • We understand the law: Our lawyers will explain your legal rights and options and help you navigate the complex legal system.
  • We investigate the incident: Our team will gather evidence to support your claim and identify all potentially liable parties.
  • We negotiate with insurance companies: Our lawyers are skilled negotiators. We will help you get the compensation you deserve and avoid being taken advantage of by insurance companies.
  • We will represent you in court: If your case goes to court, our lawyers will be there to fight for your rights and protect your interests.

Learn more about how Kherkher Garcia can help you by contacting us for a free consultation. You can call us at 713-333-1030, or reach out to us via our online contact form.


Schedule a free Consultation

Kevin Haynes

Kevin Haynes

Firm Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Firm Partner Kevin Haynes. Kevin has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 15 years. He has won $150 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. Kevin is powerful and effective in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been seriously injured at work or on the road.

Learn moreRead more articles