When we heard that a Chevron drilling crew had punctured a Chevron gas line, causing a massive explosion (but no injuries, miraculously) in Milford, Texas, we went to investigate.
Three of us left the Dallas area the morning after the explosion and drove about fifty miles south to Milford. We went with the intention of taking pictures if we could get anywhere near the site, and to see what the situation was like for the evacuees.
We quickly learned that there was no way to get near the site of the explosion. The highway exit for Milford was blocked off, as were all the back-roads leading to the town.
Next, we headed to neighboring Italy, Texas, where the evacuees had been taken. Many of them were gathered at a dome-style gym building surrounded by Red Cross officials, dozens of cops, and several news crews.
About 800 people had been evacuated from Milford, but there were less than a hundred at the evacuation center. It seemed that many had already found friends or relatives to stay with. Other had been placed in hotels by Chevron. Some evacuees told us that their grandparents had refused to leave, and that they knew of other elderly people who had stayed behind.
Residents were being allowed brief, supervised trips back to their homes to get medication and take care of pets. Residents wishing to go home were loaded onto a school bus, according to color-coded cards, and driven back into Milford.
We heard that Chevron was offering to reimburse people for their hotels, and was also promising to pay for the damage caused by pets left alone. Several people were angry that Chevron wouldn’t pay upfront; they said that many residents get paid once a month and that it was difficult to come up with the money.
Residents were also angry that Chevron refused to compensate them for the gas to drive to the evacuation center and then to their hotels. It seemed that Chevron should have plenty of gas to spare.
There were two Chevron reps on site. One told us that “first and foremost, we care about the people and want to do everything we can to help.” Moments later, we saw that same rep respond to one resident’s request for gas money with silence and an expression bordering on disdain.
The 10-inch liquid natural gas line which exploded was next to a 16-inch line which thankfully did not rupture. Concerned that the heat had effected its integrity, Chevron was in the process of off-gassing its contents. This was given as an explanation for why some residents would not be able to return home until Monday (the explosion occurred on Wednesday).
These incidents are business-as-usual for the petrochemical industry. On the same day we went to Milford, a fire at the Chevron refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi killed a worker named Tonya Graddy. On Monday, November 18, a Tennessee Gas pipeline exploded near Batesville, Mississippi.
Incidents such as these are chronically underreported by mainstream media, which typically calls them “accidents.” In those rare cases when the disaster is extreme enough to attract investigators (there are simply too many spills, leaks, and explosions for reporters or regulators to investigate them all), a long record of neglect and negligence is usually revealed. In August 2012, a massive explosion at Chevron’s aging refinery in Richmond, CA sickened at least 15,000 residents. Later, the U.S. Chemical Safety board found that Chevron had ignored a decade of warning signs. The Pascagoula refinery which killed Tonya Graddy had been cited by OSHA for 10 serious safety violations in 2009.
It was remarkably lucky that no one, neither workers nor community members, were injured by the massive explosion in Milford. Most took the inconvenience in stride, and came together to help each other cope with the disruption. The most common complaint we heard from people, other than multi-billion dollar Chevron’s stinginess, was that the hotly-anticipated Friday night high school football game had been postponed. Residents expressed extreme confidence in their school’s team and assured us that they would win the game whenever it was rescheduled.