Wyoming plant back to meeting customer needs

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

OPAL, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming natural gas processing plant is back to supplying its customers' demands less than two weeks after an explosion and fire shut it down.

Williams Partners said Tuesday that the plant is processing about 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, which is its normal capacity for this time of year. When fully operational, the plant can process up to 1.5 billion cubic feet a day.

Meantime, life has returned to its normal quiet routine in the nearby small town of Opal, which was evacuated for nearly a day when the explosion and fire occurred on April 23.

"It's quiet here. People mostly keep to themselves," said Don Olbers, petting his sad-eyed basset hound, Lady. "I think that's why people live here."

An explosion apparently triggered by a release of natural gas and resulting fire that burned out after five days. The town's residents were evacuated for about a day because of the incident.

Tom Droege, spokesman for the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based company that owns the plant, said Tuesday that the cause of the explosion and fire is still under investigation.

In addition, there is no estimate on the revenue lost while the plant was shut down, Droege said.

The plant processes gas produced from western Wyoming and northern Utah wells.

Opal's official population is 95, although Mayor Mary Hall said the real number is closer to 57.

Most of its residents were working out of town when the explosion occurred about 2 p.m., and they were tracked down and notified of the evacuation.

By 5:30 p.m., about the time company officials said the fire was under control, Hall said everyone in town was accounted for.

Hall credited the quick response to frequent emergency drills and clear communication between agencies.

"When you're living miles from a gas plant, you better plan for these kinds of things," Hall told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/SwWD4E).

Williams paid for residents to stay at the Little America hotel along Interstate 80 or the Best Western in nearby Kemmerer.

By 11:30 a.m. the next day, residents were given the all-clear.

The company is working to reimburse families for any expenses beyond the hotel stay, such as things like dinner or medicine, Williams spokesman George Angerbauer said.

"They've treated us well," said Olbers, a 14-year resident of Opal.


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com