‘Very loud boom’: No one hurt in oil tank blast

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek
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LEE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — It was a scary situation in a rural part of Calhoun County northeast of Marshall when two oil tanks exploded Tuesday morning.

“It was really loud. It scared me very badly,” 11-year-old Brayden, who lives nearby, said.

The blast happened around 10:30 a.m. at an oil storage facility — referred to as a tank farm — on M Drive North between 21 1/2 Mile Road and 23 Mile Road in Lee Township.

No one was hurt, but it left neighbors understandably shaken.

“It was just a very loud boom and a very scared 11-year-old,” Brayden’s mother Janel Whittacker said. “He said, ‘Something just shot me across the room.'”

Brayden was looking out the window when the tanks blew. The explosion shook the house and sent him stumbling.

“All I heard was a loud boom and then I was blown back pretty far,” he said.

“It was intense. I’d never heard anything quite like that. All I could think of was that something hit our house,” his mother said. “It was getting darker and hotter so we decided we need to get out of here. That’s oil and if it blows up, we’re not sticking around.”

“We have a firefighter who lives two miles to the south and he heard the explosion and he called it on his radio and said, ‘We had an explosion and I don’t know what happened,'” Art Blight, the fire chief for neighboring Marengo Township, said.

About 50 firefighters from around the area dumped foam on the burning tanks to extinguish the flames in less than an hour. They used water to cool two nearby tanks. Without any fire hydrants, they brought in the water from a nearby lake.

It’s not known why the two tanks owned by Traverse City-based West Bay Exploration Company blew.

“It might be a situation where they never really know what spurred this spark that caused the initial blast,” Blight said.

“It looks at this point like it was some kind of equipment failure,” said Terry Pelham, West Bay Exploration Company’s production supervisor. “All it takes is a spark, a cigarette butt, a static — it does not take much.”

An oil well near the tank farm pumps five or six barrels a day that are sent to refineries and used in the Midwest.

Pelham said the company is very careful to make sure such tank farms are self-contained systems designed to minimize environmental impact.

“The bonus is all the water we put on it and everything is contained in their diking system, so they got probably a mess to clean out of their dikes but it was almost all contained in there,” Blight said.

Still, state and federal environmental agencies will be looking at farms and wetlands in the area. 24 Hour News 8 will be monitoring the reports from those agencies.

West Bay Exploration Vice President Patrick Gibson said the well is unmanned, but there are workers in the area. He said workers followed proper procedures.

Gibson said there have been no reported incidents in the 13 years the company has owned the site.

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