Forum on Silver Eagle Refinery Blasts Yields Few Answers

At a meeting to discuss last week’s <"">Silver Eagle Refinery explosion in Woods Cross, Utah, city officials said there was little they could do to regulate the facility. However, City Administrator Gary Uresk told an audience of about 200 that the city would work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or U.S. Chemical Safety Board to press for more oversight and safety.

Last Wednesday’s explosion at the Silver Eagle refinery occurred shortly after 9:00 a.m. MST, sparking a fire at the 10,250 barrel-per-day refinery, located just outside of Salt Lake City in Woods Cross, that burned until later that day. The blast created a huge fireball, which sent flames as high as 100 feet in the air. At least 10 homes sustained damage, and some were knocked off their foundations from the force of the explosion. Other damage to property included smashed windows, bent garage doors and peeled siding.

A team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has determined that the cause of the latest accident at the Silver Eagle Refinery was a “catastrophic failure” of a 10-inch pipe that contained more than 600 lbs of pressurized hydrogen. It is not yet known why the pipe suffered such a failure. Refineries are supposed to monitor the integrity of piping, and investigators said they would inquire whether that monitoring occurred at Silver Eagle.

As we’ve reported previously, Silver Eagle has had other problems recently. On January 12, a large vapor cloud that was released from a petroleum storage tank ignited, causing a massive flash fire. The storage tank continued to burn for a number of hours, leading to widespread evacuations in Woods Cross. Two refinery operators and two contractors, who were standing in a shed more than 230ft from the tank, were engulfed by the flame front and suffered serious burns. The January 12 fire is still under investigation.

A current inspection report from the OSHA Web site lists four “serious” violations related to the January fire. In 2005, OSHA cited the facility for 10 “serious” violations in 2005, and assigned a “gravity” rating of 10 to one, meaning it carried the highest possible risk to workers’ safety. Silver Eagle also received two other “serious” violations in 2004, and one in 2002. OSHA records indicated that since April 2002, the facility has been cited for 23 violations overall.

According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, some Woods Cross residents expressed surprise during this week’s meeting when they were told the city could do little to regulate Silver Eagle. At least one attendee told the Tribune that the information disseminated at the forum did not make him feel any safer.

Others in the audience questioned why the city allowed a residential development to be built so close to the Silver Eagle Refinery. Some homes in Woods Cross were separated from the refinery by only a sound wall and railroad track. The neighborhood directly east of the Silver Eagle Refinery was hardest hit by the blast

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the city’s own engineering report had recommended following Housing and Urban Development standards that would have placed homes roughly 475 to 750 feet away from potentially unsafe storage areas. But, a developer-commissioned study, which the city ultimately followed, said homes should be 175 feet away based on the International Fire Code.

Some residents suggested making a buffer area between the refinery and the adjacent subdivision larger. Others propose making a wall between the homes and the refinery taller.

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