Just months prior to two flash fires at the Sinclair oil refinery (one on May 8 and another on May 25) injuring a total of six workers (at least three of them, regrettably, burned “severely”) Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors had witnessed several other fires and fire hazards while performing a “process safety management audit,” according to the agency.
The weeks-long audit took place over a period from October through December 2011, said John Ysebaert, administrator of standards and compliance for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. Based on those 2011 fires and alleged violations, Wyoming OSHA issued three citations and proposed penalties totaling $45,380.
While the workplace safety violations and fires that Wyoming OSHA staff witnessed in late 2011 spurred serious corrective action, it’s unclear whether the agency could have acted in a manner that might have prevented the May accidents that seriously harmed workers at the non-union refinery.
Asked whether the harmful fires in May could have been related to alleged violations witnessed in 2011, Wyoming Workforce Services spokeswoman Hayley Douglas told WyoFile via email, “It is difficult to say at this point because the investigations surrounding the two incidents that occurred in May (5/8 and 5/25), are still ongoing.”
Because the investigations are ongoing, details of the accidents are not readily available to the public.
The refinery, located in the town of Sinclair just east of Rawlins, has a track record littered with environmental and safety violations. For example, the refinery experienced a major fire and more than a dozen reportable gaseous and liquid spills over a short period in 2008 and 2009. Then in May 2009 a storage tank at the refinery ruptured, spilling some 3 million gallons of highly flammable gasoline-grade fuel — miraculously with no ignition.
“It was plain dumb luck that it didn’t kill people,” said Rawlins resident Barb Parsons, a former board member of the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
Parsons is among many conservation and workplace safety advocates who have pushed for more stringent and effective oversight at the refinery. Like many, Parsons wonders if Wyoming’s regulatory agencies have the resources necessary to reasonably ensure human health and environmental safety at the decades-old refinery.
“Why can’t they get it right? What has to happen for them to get it right?” Parsons told WyoFile in a phone interview. “Why not make that a big priority?”
Ysebaert said that an executive leadership team from Sinclair met with state regulators this month to discuss environmental and workplace safety mitigation plans. Despite recent additions to Wyoming OSHA’s enforcement and compliance programs, continual oversight of key industrial workplaces such as the Sinclair refinery remains a challenge, he said.
“We can absolutely step up our inspection efforts. We can have somebody there at all times, if we need to,” Ysebaert told WyoFile. “The problem is this; … if we were to have an inspector there at all times (it ties up resources). That’s the challenge that we wrestle with there.”
In response to a WyoFile inquiry, Clint Ensign, senior vice-president of Sinclair Companies, told WyoFile via email, “There are extensive federal and state environmental and workplace safety laws in place that Sinclair takes very seriously. Sinclair endeavors to respect, honor, and follow these laws. When an incident occurs, we make full disclosure to government authorities and take responsibility for the event. Most important, Sinclair endeavors to learn from each incident and to take actions necessary to prevent the mishap from occurring again.”
Ensign added that many of the toxic air emission events recorded at the refinery are due to re-start operations after a power outage. “The unreliability of electric power to our Wyoming refineries — especially the Sinclair Wyoming refinery — is a serious concern to Sinclair,” said Ensign. “The company has invested millions of dollars, and has worked in good faith with the power company, to enhance power reliability to the refineries.”
Regarding electric service reliability, Rock Mountain Power spokesman Jeff Hymas told WyoFile, “We are making significant investments in our transmission system and other areas to improve reliability for all of our customers, including Sinclair. We are working closely with Sinclair to address their power issues, as we would with any customer.”
The following is a list of three Wyoming OSHA citations for alleged violations at the Sinclair refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming, resulting from conditions observed in late 2011. Sinclair Companies retains the right to challenge these citations.
Highlights of Citation 1, Inspection No. 314509639 (Inspection dates 10/13/2011 — 11/02/2011 and Issuance date of 3/07/2012):
— Item 1a; Serious. “Did not reflect/list the safety valve on exchanger, EX-1947.” Proposed penalty of $4,038.
— Item 2a; Serious. “Generally accepted good engineering practices were not followed when expiration dates on Rexuord Omega Couplings, ES50R were not recognized/followed. No exact expiration date known for coupling associated with fire believed coupling last changed out around 2002.” Proposed penalty of $5,950.
— Item 3a; Serious. “Fire Equipment Inspection, Testing and Preventative Maintenance Manual was last reviewed/updated in July 2009.” Proposed penalty of $6,475.
— Item 3b; Serious. “Annual Inspections not being completed on hose systems to assure that equipment is in serviceable condition.” No proposed penalty.
Highlights of Citation 2, Inspection No. 314509621 (Inspection dates 10/13/2011 — 11/02/2011 and Issuance date of 3/06/2012):
— Item 1a; Serious. “Equipment Deficiency Procedure PSM-MI-019-S (0) & Process Piping Inspection Procedure PSM-MI-008-S (0) did not clearly define inspection work flow process for third party UT Technician or API 570 Inspector associated with API 570 Piping Procedures under normal operations.” Proposed penalty of $7,000.
— Item 1b; Serious. “API 570 Inspector (third party inspector) failed to take action on deficiencies identified by UT Tech.” No proposed penalty.
— Item 2a; Serious. “Due to changes in piping system and previous inspection/audits findings piping had not been classified in accordance with API 570 associated with piping classifications. Piping classified as either class 3 or class 2 on various documents and should have been classified as class 1 piping.” Proposed penalty of $4,250.
— Item 2b; Serious. “Inspections had not been completed in accordance with API 570 associated with third party completing piping calculations requirements. A corrosion rate was not assumed for the piping calculation, which was necessary to determine an adequate starting number for CML regarding the piping associated with the fire.” No proposed penalty.
Highlights of Citation 3, Inspection No. 314509613 (Inspection dates 10/13/2011 — 11/02/2011 and Issuance date of 3/06/2012):
— Item 1; Serious. “Information pertaining to the equipment in the process. Information pertaining to the equipment in the process shall include: Piping and instrument diagrams (P&ID’s).” Proposed penalty of $2,167.
— Item 2a; Serious. “Operating Procedure not adequate to address the hazards associated with procedure Start-Up from Standby with 583 Vacuum Unit By-Pass associated with Low 02.” Proposed penalty of $4,250.
— Item 3; Serious. “Lack of formal Boardman training to prevent Boardman from adequately responding/reacting to Low O2 operation Startup from Standby. No employer documentation/record of Boardman completing “Lead Technician” training/being qualified as a Level A Boardman.” Proposed penalty of $7,000.
— Item 4a; Serious. “There was one instance where a Maintenance Supervisor did not sign the entry permit.” Proposed penalty of $4,250.
— Item 4c; Serious. “The entry permit that documents compliance with this section and authorizes entry to a permit space shall identify: Any other Information whose inclusion is necessary, given the circumstances of the particular confined space, in order to ensure employee safety; and (15) Any additional permits, such as for hot work, that have been issued to authorize work in the permit space: Multiple instances of permits not being completed properly: 1) Thirteen (13) instances of permits identifying a fire watch as necessary but no fire watch assigned/provided. 2) Multiple instances of fire watches, attendants, and entrant not singing in/out. 3) Seven (7) instances of permits not being closed properly (not signed closed).” No proposed penalty.
WyoFile is a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.