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Utah Refinery Explosion Ignites Safety Questions

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By Minara El-Rahman on November 06, 2009 9:15 AM

Silver Eagle Refinery in Woods Cross, Utah had a severe explosion that caused damage to ten homes in the area. The refinery is located five miles north of Salt Lake City.

This is the refinery's second explosion this year. The first occurred in January of this year. In that explosion, a fire had burned for 11 hours straight.

The AP reports that this current blast started in a vessel called a diesel hydrotreater which removes sulfur compounds from diesel fuel.

According to AP, federal records show that Woods Cross refinery had fires in 2003, 2005 and 2007, in addition to the two explosions this year.

The AP quotes Daniel Horowitz, a spokesman for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board as saying, "[w]e're concerned about the number of refinery accidents... Counting this case, that's eight refinery cases open right now, with three in Salt Lake. It's a number we're concerned about."

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is an investigative agency with no regulatory or enforcement power. It has faulted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for law regulation perhaps leading to recent troubles at US refineries.

It seems like OSHA has a lot of work to do. In addition to the Utah refinery explosion and pressure to act on mounting evidence of dangers at mutiple refineries, it look like OSHA will still have to fight over regulatory actions it's already taken.

OSHA just fined BP $87 million over conditions at a Texas City, Texas refinery where a 2005 explosion killed 15 people. BP vows to fight the fine.

It looks like there will be a lot of investigations going on about refinery safety and what OSHA is doing about it.

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