Cleanup under way after Woods Cross oil spray

Published: Friday, Aug. 31 2012 9:00 a.m. MDT

Larkin landscapers remove oily sod from the Animal Care Center in Woods Cross on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. On Thursday evening, a fuel oil tank sprayed 212 barrels of oil. Nobody was harmed, but the fuel oil coated buildings, cars, and roads immediately southeast of the tank, which is located at the eastern side of the refinery near the railroad tracks.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

WOODS CROSS — Cleanup in the aftermath of a 212-barrel oil spray from a refinery was continuing Friday in neighborhoods, streets, rail lines and at businesses, with the dirty work likely continuing for several weeks.

The lid on a storage tank at HollyFrontier's East Tanks Farm, north of 500 South and west of I-15, fractured at 6:45 p.m. Thursday and spewed a thick and sticky black coating of fuel oil about 40 yards wide and at least a mile to the southeast on cars, storage sheds and lawns.

Mike Astin, the company's environmental manager, said he was aware of at least two dozen residents and multiple neighboring businesses that were impacted, but only one resident who reported a "tickle" in her throat. He said she was advised to go to the doctor and will be reimbursed.

Astin, in the lobby of the company's offices on 800 West Friday morning, had a stack of free car wash coupons at the ready to give to residents or passing motorists who had vehicles coated with any of the material, which he said is not toxic.

"But it's not easy to get this stuff off."

Employees with Mister Hot Shine in Bountiful reported that about 100 oil-flecked or spattered cars or trucks had been through the business as of early Friday afternoon.

In addition to sending crews out in force Thursday to assess impacts and begin cleanup, Astin said three environmental cleanup contractors had been hired and were on scene dealing with the impacts on Friday.

The turf in the play yard area of Animal Care Center was being pulled up by a trio of men in protective clothing being worn to shield their clothes from the gunk, and the parking lot of the business and others nearby had been coated with a thick layer of dirt and gravel.

Dr. Pam Nichols, owner of the animal care, boarding and grooming business, said HollyFrontier officials notified her of incident Thursday evening so employees would be aware of what to expect when they got to work.

"There was black, sticky goo all over everything," she said.

By the time she arrived at her business at 7:30 a.m. Friday, refinery cleanup crews had much of everything sanded down to moderate the effects of the spill.

Nichols, trailed about the business by a puffy and perfectly-coiffed black poodle and a chihuahua that struggled to keep up, said the biggest challenge of the day was entertaining her canine customers indoors because the play area outside was off limits.

"It's been a bit of an inconvenience not being able to turn the dogs loose," she said, "but Holly refinery has been super fast and good at getting things taken care of."

Becky Vanderlinden, one of the managers at the business, experienced the sticky aftermath Thursday evening when she stepped into the fenced area behind the building.

"My feet actually stuck to the ground enough that when I lifted my foot back up, my flip flop broke and stayed stuck to the ground," she said. "I thought, 'This is going to be a mess to clean up, that's for sure.' It's a pretty overwhelming job, I would think."

The cause of the oil spray remains under investigation. Astin said the tank was one that is often used to handle heavy materials and oil had been flowing into the tank for about 24 hours without incident.

"We're speculating that it somehow got water in it," he said. "Because (the oil) is a hot material, around a couple hundred degrees, any water that hits it would vaporize, causing a pressure build."

He added that someone who actually witnessed the incident reported seeing a puff of gray smoke, followed by a puff of white.

"We're thinking the water vaporized and pulled the oil with it," he said.

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