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Silver Eagle Refinery Site of Previous Accident, Safety Violations

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The Silver Eagle Refinery in Utah, the site of a destructive explosion  last week, has had serious safety problems in the past.  In fact, last week’s blast was the second  accident at the facility this year.  The first, a flash fire,  seriously injured four people at the Silver Eagle Refinery on January 12.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is still investigating the January  flash fire.  The fire occurred  when a large vapor cloud was released from a petroleum storage tank. The cloud was ignited, causing a massive flash fire. The storage tank continued to burn for a number of hours.  That fire led 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.

A current inspection report from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Web site lists four “serious” violations related to the fire.

According to The Deseret News, there have been other safety problems at the Silver Eagle Refinery.  In fact,  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. The violation concerned “process safety management of hazardous chemicals,” and OSHA initially assigned a penalty of $3,000. The issue was informally settled in March 2007, with the company paying a fine of $2,000, Deseret News said.

Silver Eagle also received two other “serious” violations in 2004, and one in 2002.  According to The Desert News, OSHA records indicated that since April 2002, the facility has been cited for 23 violations overall.

Luckily, no one was injured in last Wednesday’s Silver Eagle Refinery explosion, but the blast caused severe damage to nearby homes.  The explosion 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.

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