CSB to investigate fire at Tesoro Salt Lake City refinery

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 23 -- A team from the US Chemical Safety Board was sent to investigate an Oct. 21 fire at Tesoro Corp.’s 58,000-b/d Salt Lake City refinery, it was reported on Oct. 23.

No injuries were reported from the blaze, which refinery and municipal firefighters extinguished within an hour, but smoke and flames were visible over a wide area and a nearby interstate highway and commuter rail line were closed temporarily, CSB said. Three investigators were sent from its western regional office in Denver.

The fire was the third in as many months at a refinery owned by San Antonio-based Tesoro. A coking unit caught fire on Sept. 25 at the refiner’s 97,000 b/d facility at Wilmington, Calif., near Los Angeles. That incident followed a small fire at the company’s 58,000 b/d Mandan, ND, facility in late August.

CSB said refinery officials indicated that this latest fire broke out following a power outage when liquid hydrocarbons were released from a flare stack during an effort to restart the plant’s crude unit. The hydrocarbons were ignited in a pool fire, which extended from the base of the stack and damaged a trailer and other equipment nearby.

CSB investigators will try to determine if there are any similarities in this incident to a 2005 fire and explosion at BP America Inc.’s Texas City, Tex., refinery that killed 15 workers in nearby trailers and injured 180 other people, according to John S. Bresland, the board’s chairman.

Flammable liquid erupted from a blowdown stack during a unit startup in that case, leading to a massive vapor cloud explosion, he said. The CSB recommended numerous changes to regulations, enforcement, and industry safety practices following that accident, he noted.

“Nearly 4 years after the disaster in Texas City, there continues to be a disturbing number of fires, explosions, and releases at the nation’s refineries,” said Bresland. “These events endanger workers and the public and can disrupt the supply of needed transportation fuels. A sudden release of flammable liquid from a flare or blowdown stack poses a potential risk to people, equipment, and the environment, and warrants a closer look.”

CSB already is investigating a fire at another Salt Lake City area refinery. Four workers were seriously burned when a large vapor cloud was released from a blaze in an atmospheric storage tank and ignited at the Silver Eagle refinery in nearby Woods Cross on Jan. 12.

The board, which investigates accidents and issues recommendations but does not assess fines or orders, said it expects to have a final report on this case in early 2010.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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