Refinery has history of problems

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WOODS CROSS -- Wednesday's explosion isn't the first problem at the Silver Eagle Refinery. Federal investigators eyes were already focused on the refinery.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) out of Washington, D.C., is in the middle of an investigation concerning an explosion and fire back in January; and Wednesday afternoon, federal officials announced they're deploying again to look into what happened Wednesday morning.

In January of 2005, a tube inside a furnace at the refinery ruptured. No one is injured, but witnesses reported flames 200 to 300 feet in the air.


In 2007, a steel pipe burst and sprayed diesel fuel into a furnace. No one was injured; however, that wasn't the case in January of 2009 when fumes leaking underneath a storage tank ignited. Five workers were injured, including four who suffered serious burns. Nearby homes were voluntarily evacuated.

Both the CSB and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the January 2009 incident. The CSB's report is not yet finished; OSHA's is, but on Wednesday officials were not able to detail what they found.

"The results of that investigation are not public record yet because the refinery has formally contested the case," explained Louis Silva, a Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division administrator.

Silver Eagle Refinery officials have not commented on camera during past incidents, but they made a safety manager available after Wednesday's explosion.

"If you take a look at the number of OSHA violations issued over the past 10 years, you'll find two of our refining neighbors have records better than ours and two that are worse. We're right smack in the middle," said safety manager Dan Beecher.

When asked if there's room for improvement in that record, Beecher called it a "constant effort."

Neighbors, however, said improvement is long past due.

"This is the fifth time it's blown up in the six years I've been here. I knew it was there when I moved in, and I was fine with it until it started blowing up," Linda Wood said.

Beecher deferred comment to the company president and corporate attorneys when asked what he would say to neighbors who are concerned about their safety. He said he had only been at the refinery for two years.

"The neighbors came in long in after the refinery did, and that's about all I can tell you about that," he said.

Beecher said safety was a constant process and in the time years he's been there, they've invested a lot of money into fire training and equipment. He also said inspectors were often on site making sure refinery components, such as pipelines, were up to code.

KSL News also looked into how often refineries are inspected by federal officials. According to OSHA, there's no definite schedule because inspections take up to six months and four people to complete. They are currently working on inspecting every refinery in the state of Utah during a several year period.


Story compiled with contributions from Sarah Dallof and Marc Giauque.

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