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CSB: Refinery officials knew about inaccurate pipe measurements


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WOODS CROSS -- The U.S. Chemical Safety Board explained Tuesday why it asked Silver Eagle Refinery in Woods Cross to temporarily shut down: A number of pieces of equipment at the refinery may be operating at unsafe levels.

The refinery agreed with the CSB's recommendation; it has shut down four of the five processing units so far. Now, newly-released surveillance video shows just how bad the explosion was and how lucky it is that people weren't hurt.

Damaged walls are in various states of repair in the home of Rodney and Vicki Whittle. Their home sits yards from the Silver Eagle Refinery. Rodney was home at the time of the explosion.

"I heard the first one; I felt the second one," Rodney said.

During a press conference Tuesday, CSB Chairman John Bresland said he saw firsthand some of the damage done to nearby homes and spoke to some of the families affected.

"I was struck by the seriousness of the damage, but I was also deeply impressed by the resilience of the community," Bresland said. "As I understand, within hours of the accident, some 200 neighbors had gathered to aid one of the families that had lost the use of their home.

"But as neighbors have also clearly told us, their peace of mind will not be so easily repaired as their belongings." [CLICK HERE to read Bresland's entire statement]

Preliminary findings indicate the explosion was caused by a catastrophic failure of a 10-inch pipe that measured just 1/8 of an inch thick. But measurements done in 2007 by an outside contractor hired by Silver Eagle stated the pipe was 1/2 an inch thick.

CSB investigators don't believe the pipe wore that much in two years. They suspect the original measurement was inaccurate.

"We began to query Silver Eagle officials, and they indicated there were other readings because they had begun to check the previous contractor's inspections; and they told us other inspections had inaccuracies as well," said CSB investigations supervisor Don Holmstrom.

CSB investigators also found inaccurate records were kept for equipment and suspect a lot of that equipment is past its expiration date of safely functioning.

A spokeswoman for Silver Eagle did not return phone calls Tuesday but released a statement, reading in part: "Silver Eagle has been following an established mechanical integrity program and disagrees with any suggestion or assertion to the contrary ... However, in light of the November 4 incident and the preliminary findings, it is apparent to the refinery that the program was insufficient and that changes need to be made."

According to the CSB, Silver Eagle refinery was working on checking measurements and fixing problems when the explosion occurred.

E-mail: sdallof@ksl.com

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Sarah Dallof

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