July 13--Lanny Rogers was driving in his truck less than a mile from his property near New Baden when he first saw black smoke rising above the green treetops. The oilman with 30 years of experience knew that smoke rising from his neighbor's parcel wasn't a good sign.
Rogers, 47, drove onto his neighbor's property and was pulling up to a gate when he noticed flames rising from inside a large steel oil storage tank. As he arrived at the gate, the tank exploded.
"It was like a bomb went off. I mean, it was loud," Rogers, 47, said on Friday.
In the days since the blast, state officials have released a report detailing how a contractor, who remains unidentified, was using a cutting torch on the tank, causing the blast. Rogers is the first witness to reveal the details of the aftermath at Cazey well No. 2.
Rogers, who is an ex-firefighter and medic, opened the gate and rushed toward a group of men carrying the injured contractor away from the fire. Rogers said he saw eight to 10 crew members at the site, which is owned by Finaly Resources. Rogers said he also noticed several trucks and two 18-wheeler tanker trailers, all parked a safe distance from the fire.
"The only thing I was thinking about was getting everybody to safety," said the full-time oil well operator. "I just went in to help the people 'cause they needed help."
The group had just laid the man down in a safe spot when a second tank blew, creating another column of black smoke that was visible for several miles in northern Robertson County.
The contractor, who had been using a cutting torch to remove bolts from the catwalk on top of the 12,000-gallon storage tank, was in and out of consciousness. The man's shirt was slightly burned, while his face and head were badly burned, Rogers said.
In the minutes following the blasts, an off-duty emergency room nurse arrived and started helping Rogers treat the construction worker. Rogers said an ambulance arrived not long after that, followed by volunteer fire crews. Rogers said he did everything from helping to make sure the helicopter had a place to land to driving the ambulance with the injured worker. He said he also advised the initial firefighters on the scene to let the fire burn out because the water from their hoses would spread the fire.
It's been four days since the blast. While the Texas Railroad Commission has revealed its initial findings, details from the Robertson County Sheriff's Office about the injured worker and the company he was working for continue to be scarce.
J-Bar Services, the company hired to remove the storage tanks, is being investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
A spokesperson from OSHA confirmed one of the agency's investigators was at the well site on Thursday.
"This investigation is still in the early stages," said OSHA spokesman Juan Rodriguez, adding that an investigation can take up to six months to conclude.
County Judge Jan Roe said the injured J-Bar Services worker, who was still in critical condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital on Friday, is not from the Brazos Valley area. Several calls this week seeking comment from Sheriff Gerald Yezak were not returned. The number listed for J-Bar Services corporate headquarters in Franklin returned a busy signal for two days last week.
Roe said investigators from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, as well as the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were called to the scene on Wednesday as a formality. The Railroad Commission is overseeing the cleanup efforts, Roe said.
Tom Finaly, president of Finaly Resources, said on Thursday that the plan to plug the well and remove the tanks and other equipment was moving forward.
Rogers started working in oil fields at age 15. On Friday, he said, he was still in shock about what he witnessed at the site, which sits about 50 feet away from his property line.
"I've seen the aftermath of it but I've never been next to the tanks when there's been an explosion," he said.