News reports (here, here, here, here, here, and here) out of France indicate that two larger storage tank fires at a LyondellBasell refinery outside of Marseille France were the result of some sort of attack. The fires started almost simultaneously at about 3:00 am local time on Tuesday. No one is currently calling it a terrorist attack, but because the two fires started essentially simultaneously and an ‘activated device’ was found on a separate (but undamaged) tank, French authorities are calling this a ‘criminal act’.
Photos of the fires (here and here) show your typical large petrochemical storage tank surface fire. While producing quite spectacular black clouds these are fightable fires that seldom produce off-site consequences (other than smoke and soot).
A couple of the news articles note that there was a hole in the perimeter fence near one of the tanks. This may have been the access point for the attack or it could have been an insider attack that did not require the penetration of the facility perimeter. It does point out, however, how easy it is to penetrate the standard cyclone fence that is used as the primary perimeter barrier at so many industrial facilities.
It has been well over 24 hours since the attack occurred and there are no indications of any terrorist group publicly claiming credit for the attack. While not proof that it was not terror related, it would be an unusual terrorist attack that did not have a claim of responsibility attached to it. We will just have to wait to see what the on-going investigation determines.