The Chemical Safety Board Continues Investigation of Gas Explosion in Woods Cross, Utah

Preliminary findings from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) of a hydrogen gas explosion at the Silver Eagle refinery in Woods Cross, Utah on Nov. 4 indicate that the explosion occurred when a 10-inch pipe failed catastrophically. Although the failure mechanism has yet to be determined, the pipe showed evidence of significant thinning, which had not been detected by the refinery’s mechanical integrity program.

The blast damaged nearby homes and was felt over a distance of several miles. A six-member team CSB led by Investigations Supervisor Donald Holmstrom was deployed to the scene of the explosion, which occurred in the diesel hydrotreater unit. CSB still is investigating a January 2009 flash fire at the same refinery that burned two refinery operators and two contractors.

Over the past several days, the CSB team has developed a number of serious concerns about the integrity of the piping and equipment at various locations in the plant. These concerns include a lack of required documentation and a lack of needed calculations of the fitness for service of various pieces of equipment.

The agency discussed these serious concerns with Utah OSHA, the Utah Labor Commission, federal OSHA and Silver Eagle executives. CSB Chairman John Bresland told the chairman of the board and the president of Silver Eagle that in his view, the best course of action for the refinery would be to stand down as quickly and safely as possible. The refinery units should remain shut down until the integrity and fitness for service of all the equipment can be documented and verified.

After a comprehensive examination and any needed repairs have been made, the plant could be restarted in close coordination with the appropriate regulatory agencies, said Bresland.

Silver Eagle’s management responded positively to this suggestion, said Breslan, and told him on Nov. 13 they would begin an orderly process to stand down the refinery until the steps were accomplished.

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