Second fire in six months at Wyoming refinery

WYOMING - A second fire in six months at the largest oil refinery in Wyoming may lead to more scrutiny of how owner Sinclair Oil Corp operates the plant and protects worker safety.

The fire at the 74,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming, started Friday morning and blazed for 6-1/2 hours before the refinery's fire department put it out with no injuries, the company said.

The fire broke out at the plant's alkylation unit, which combines byproducts from previous refining processes with alkanes and a catalyst to produce a high-octane blendstock for gasoline.

Wyoming's US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said in November it would fine privately held Sinclair US$707,000 (S$883,000) for workplace safety violations after a May inspection of the plant, which is about 140 miles (225 km) west of Cheyenne, Wyoming's capital in the state's south-eastern corner.

Local media reports later cited Wyoming OSHA's administrator as saying the regulator may shut down the refinery if another serious accident occurred.

The OSHA Wyoming office did not respond to requests for comments.

"Sinclair has notified Wyoming OSHA and we are beginning an investigation of the incident," the company said in its statement.

The plant was operating at rates "similar" to those before the fire broke out, Sinclair said. Wyoming is part of the PADD IV energy district, which has a small fuels market but is also sparsely populated.

The refining capacity of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, comprising PADD IV, is 630,000 bpd compared with 3.5 million bpd in neighbouring PADD II with 15 Midwestern states and compared with 4.8 million bpd in Texas alone, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

Six refineries operate in Wyoming with a capacity of 166,000 bpd.

The refinery processes various crude types including heavy sour Canadian and waxy Utah crude, according to its website. The website says the refinery now processes more than 80,000 bpd, although the Energy Information Administration lists it with a capacity of 74,000 bpd.

The refinery was built in 1923 and Sinclair has been operating it on and off since 1934.