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US refinery blast leaves five dead

Author : Paul Gay

03 April 2010

An explosion and fire at US oil refiner Tesoro’s Anacortes facility in Washington state shook homes and shot flames into the night sky early on Good Friday morning. The blaze occurred while maintenance work was being performed but was extinguished in about 90 minutes. Parts of the refinery were still operating.

Amateur video of the Tesoro incident
Amateur video of the Tesoro incident

The incident left four dead and three other workers in a critical condition. A fifth victim died later in hospital. All other employees at the refinery have been accounted for but the extent of the damage is unknown. Investigators are trying to determine the exact cause of the blaze and a four-member team from the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has deployed to the scene.

The blast apparently occurred in the refinery’s naphtha hydrotreater, which had undergone maintenance and was in the process of being returned to operation. Naphtha is a volatile, flammable liquid hydrocarbon that is used as a petrochemical feedstock and to make high-octane fuels.

Production at the refinery in Anacortes, 70 miles north of Seattle, was cut to about 20,000 barrels a day, one-third of its normal capacity, according to a Tesoro spokesman. San Antonio-based Tesoro will boost production at some of its six other refineries to help make up for the gap and doesn’t expect a ‘significant impact’ on supplies of refined products, a company statement said.
The plant in Anacortes manufactures gasoline, jet fuel and diesel for markets in Washington and Oregon. It receives oil by pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta, and by tanker from Alaska and foreign sources, according to the company’s Web site. The plant also processes intermediate feedstocks such as heavy vacuum gas oil that are produced by other Tesoro refineries or purchased in the spot market.

The blast was the biggest fatal refinery accident since the 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people and injured another 170. The CSB is also investigating flash fire at a Tesoro Refinery in Salt Lake City, Utah, that occurred last October when flammable liquid overfilled a flare stack and ignited. Tesoro was also fined $85,700 a year ago for 17 serious safety and health violations.

CSB Chairman and CEO John Bresland said: “The CSB has 18 ongoing investigations.  Of those, seven of these accidents occurred at refineries across the country.  This is a significant and disturbing trend that the refining industry needs to address immediately.”

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