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Williams' CEO: 'My heart sank' over deadly explosion

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Friday, June 14, 2013 - 10:35pm

The CEO of Williams Companies is in Ascension Parish to oversee the company's recovery efforts following an explosion at its plant in Geismar which killed two people.

Alan Armstrong said Friday he was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the accident and found out about it by reading a press release.

"Your heart sinks," Armstrong said about hearing such sad news. "It's hard to know what to do in a situation like that; you feel pretty helpless, frankly.

"For Williams, this is a terrible and unprecedented tragedy, and an extremely difficult time for all of us."

Armstrong and Larry Bayer, the plant's manager, spoke at a news briefing inside the Ascension Parish Chamber of Commerce Friday afternoon. They said 839 people were on the grounds at the time. That was more than usual because the plant is in the middle of a big expansion project.

The accident happened in a propylene refinery. Bayer said that area was isolated from the rest of the operation, but did not have any explosion suppression equipment.

"That's a technology that I'm not familiar with," he stated. "We did activate all of our emergency activity response systems, and we did shutting the plant, shut it down safely."

Twenty five Williams employees stayed at the site Friday, but just to keep it secure. Nobody else has been allowed in, because propane is still burning in a controlled flare, so the search for a cause had not started.

"A lot of us in this industry have spent much of our careers working to make it safe to operate," Armstrong said. "And so when something happens like this, it honestly feels like a big failure."

Armstrong claimed that plant had maintained a good safety record since it opened in 1999, calling the management team in Geismar one of the company's best. He and Bayer mentioned that they want to find out what went wrong, so it never happens again, in Geismar or elsewhere.

"We are devoted to operating a safe facility for our employees, for our customers, and for our community," Bayer said.

Armstrong stated that all Williams employees will be paid for the duration of the closure. He said he will need to speak with the contracting companies about whether and how those workers will receive compensation.    

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