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CSB Investigators take another look at Silver Eagle

27 January 2009

The hazardous area industry simply must commend the tenacity of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in the USA. Following a two week investigation into a flash fire at the Silver Eagle Refinery in Woods Cross, Utah, inspectors returned this week to continue their search for the causes of the incident. It is thought the fire was caused by the ignition of an unconfined petroleum vapour cloud. This all sounds rather familiar: Utah could have its own mini-Buncefield.

CSB Investigators take another look
CSB Investigators take another look

On the evening of January 12, a large vapour cloud was released from the refinery’s Tank 105 – a petroleum storage tank. The cloud was ignited by an as yet undetermined ignition source, causing a massive flash fire. The storage tank continued to burn for a number of hours, until the flames were extinguished by the South Davis Metro Fire Agency and local refinery fire brigades early the following morning.

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. All four were hospitalised but are now recovering.

Tank 105 is an atmospheric storage tank and was almost full on the night of the accident, containing approximately 440,000 gallons of light naphtha. The tank is equipped with an interior floating roof and has seven atmospheric vents on the top sides of the exterior roof.

“The CSB team will be examining a reported history of releases from the tank and the integrity of the tank seal,” said Investigations Supervisor Don Holmstrom. “We will also be looking at the operation of the refinery and any recent process changes to determine why highly volatile hydrocarbons were released.” Holmstrom also stated that Tank 105 was receiving up to three different streams of hydrocarbon liquids from the refinery, including light or low-boiling substances at the time of the incident.

CSB investigators have been present at the refinery throughout the past two weeks, conducting approximately 30 witness interviews, gathering samples and evidence, and examining the accident scene. The staff and management of the refinery have cooperated with the investigation, and the CSB team has also been coordinating with investigators from Utah OSHA and the South Davis Metro Fire Agency.

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