It was hard to even talk to them before the incident. Now, they're very open, and we're very pleased with the direction we're going. —Gary Uresk, Woods Cross city administrator
WOODS CROSS — The blast was felt from Salt Lake City to Roy.
On Nov. 4, 2009, hydrogen gas leaked from a pipe and exploded in a fireball at Silver Eagle Refining Inc., 2355 S. 1100 West.
The explosion sent a shock wave through the community — literally and figuratively, damaging homes and leaving residents to wonder whether it was safe to live with the refinery as a neighbor.
Trina Patterson, whose Woods Cross home was damaged in the blast, was in Omaha, Neb., when she got the news. She was frightened and furious.
"It was so out of our control," Patterson recalled. "I felt like there was nothing done to protect us from what happened. Something should have been done."
Today, Patterson remains frustrated by the loss in value to her home since the explosion. And she expects the refinery to do everything possible to prevent future incidents.
"I expect them to use the lessons they've learned from this and incorporate every possible safety measure they can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again," Patterson said.
Silver Eagle Refining Inc. spokesman Michael Smith said the company has been working since the incident to regain the trust of Woods Cross and its residents.
"That incident was terrible," Smith said. "Miraculously, no one was hurt. But we're here, they're here and we're all at risk. We want to minimize the risk. If we can eliminate the risk, we will."
Silver Eagle has completely revamped its safety protocols since the accident. Today, every project and procedure is "safety driven," he said. All incidents — no matter how minor — are investigated and corrective actions are implemented.
It's been a costly process, Smith said, one driven by making sure the refinery is "absolutely safe."
"There was no expense spared to reach that goal," he said.
Several million dollars have been spent to repair and rebuild the plant, revamp safety measures and bring all its oil refining units back online, Smith said.
Silver Eagle also has made what Woods Cross city administrator Gary Uresk calls "a 180-degree change" in its level of communication with the city.
"It was hard to even talk to them before the incident," Uresk said. "Now, they're very open, and we're very pleased with the direction we're going."
Patterson said Silver Eagle also has made more of an effort to communicate with residents since the accident.
"They've started to see that they have a responsibility to the community," she said.
As part of its efforts to regain the trust of Woods Cross city officials and residents, Silver Eagle has agreed to provide quarterly reports to the City Council, using a safety scorecard.
The scorecard, developed using recommended practices of the American Petroleum Institute, provides city officials with a quarterly snapshot of the refinery's status — including accidents that have occurred, as well as inspections and trainings conducted.
"I think it's a very positive thing for the city to review that every quarter," Uresk said. "It just shows (the refinery's) commitment to running a safe facility."
Silver Eagle also pays for a third-party auditor to review the reports and scorecards each year, he said, "to make sure they're giving (the city) the right information."
The refinery has been making the quarterly reports since June 2011. At the recommendation of the auditor, the scorecard recently was revised to cater it more toward addressing city officials' and residents' concerns — specifically making sure preventive maintenance is taking place. The City Council approved those revisions earlier this week.
"I think it's a good arrangement we have," Uresk said. "This is not required of Silver Eagle. The city doesn't have any regulatory authority to require this. They have voluntarily entered into this agreement in their desire to build trust in the community."
City and refinery officials say the scorecard serves as an indicator of potential problems and allows them to be addressed before anything bad happens.
Uresk said there were warning signs before the November 2009 explosion, including a flash fire at the refinery in January of that year.
"There were indicators that something wasn't quite right," he said. "And sure enough, we had a major incident."
The explosion resulted in 270-plus damage claims from refinery neighbors and more than $1 million in fines levied against Silver Eagle by the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division.
All but one of those claims have been settled, Smith said, and several of those citations have been reduced.
"I can't give you specific number because it's an ongoing process, but it's significant," he said of the reduction in fines.
The accident remains under investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
A replacement for the dewaxing unit that exploded was brought online in December. Its purpose is to separate wax products from diesel oil.
In June, Silver Eagle Refining merged with Toronto-based International Group Inc. and the local plant's focus was shifted toward development and manufacturing of wax-based products.
That's good news for Woods Cross, Uresk said, because "the wax production doesn't require as much processing so the overall impact on the community is less."
City and refinery officials say the level of transparency and accountability between Woods Cross and Silver Eagle is unlike anything in the U.S. Uresk said he hopes other municipalities and industrial companies follow their lead.
"This really goes a long way for us feeling good about (the refinery) being there," he said. "It's been good experience to work through this and get to this point."