Refinery hit with $1M in fines for explosion

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah regulators have fined an oil refinery more than $1 million for an explosion last year that knocked four workers to the ground and damaged dozens of nearby houses.

Silver Eagle Refining Inc. says it will contest the 51 violations, which singled out problems with equipment, safety procedures and record-keeping.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of 153 pages of citations in an open-records request from the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Wood Cross refinery was the scene of a 100-foot fireball in November that was captured in video by a surveillance camera.

The blast knocked four workers to the ground and left about 100 houses in a nearby subdivision damaged -- it peeled the homes' siding, smashed windows or bent garage doors. One house was knocked off its foundation.

Nobody was killed or injured, but regulators say many of the violations discovered after the explosion were potentially deadly.

The company knew about 16 of the safety violations but failed to correct them, according to the documents. Those lapses were rated "willful." Another violation was classified as a repeat offense, and 34 were deemed serious.

Almost all of the violations had "the potential to cause serious injury or kill somebody," said OSHA director Louis Silva.

One violation faulted Silver Eagle for failing to determine a cause for the explosion, and the company says it still doesn't know.

Silver Eagle executives referred calls from the AP to an outside public-relations professional, Cindy Gubler, who said the company only recently had access to the blast site and was still testing key components involved in the explosion.

"They haven't come to a conclusion what it was -- and that is not untypical," Gubler said Monday. "I think that will get resolved."

Gubler said Silver Eagle filed notice it planned to contest the violations as a formality but needs time to study which of the 51 violations it believes are without merit. The citations, together with a fine of $1,006,400, were levied April 28.

It wasn't Silver Eagle's first explosion. A January 2009 blast left four workers seriously burned at the same refinery. For that incident the company was cited for safety violations and fined $8,500, OSHA operations manager William W. Adams Jr. said Monday.

November's explosion resulted in no casualties but was deemed more serious that the January blast.

"Our oversight is about employee safety," Adams said earlier this year during his investigation of the November blast. "It was considered a disaster."

Silver Eagle is the smallest of five oil refineries in Utah, all concentrated along a belt just north of Salt Lake City. It ranks 130th in U.S. production with a capacity of 10,250 barrels a day, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Silver Eagle shut down for about two months after the explosion, then resumed operation in January of one of four crude processing units, mostly for production of paraffin wax used as a food preservative. The other three crude-oil units remain shut down.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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