Cause, damage still unknown after fire at HollyFrontier refinery
BY ZACH STOYCOFF & ROD WALTON World Staff Writers
Friday, August 03, 2012
8/03/12 at 4:28 AM
A diesel hydrotreater at HollyFrontier's Tulsa East refinery caught fire early Thursday, waking neighbors and sending up fireballs seen miles away.
The company's emergency response team extinguished the west Tulsa blaze after about two hours while Tulsa Fire Department personnel stood nearby for support. No injuries were reported.
Dallas-based HollyFrontier Corp. had no statement on the cause of the fire or the extent of damage.
"While we are investigating the cause of the fire, safety is our No. 1 goal, safety for our employees, fire team and surrounding neighbors," Tony Conetta, vice president and refinery manager, said in a statement. "We appreciate the Tulsa Fire Department's standby support."
The fire did not shut down production, the company reported. The refinery, which combines the former Sinclair (Tulsa East) and Sunoco (Tulsa West) facilities, processes up to 125,000 barrels of crude oil daily into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, lubricants and other products.
Matt Shaffer, who lives on the 27th floor of the University Club tower at 1722 S. Carson Ave., said the blast awakened him and several of his neighbors about 2:15 a.m.
"As I was laying there, I thought, whoa, maybe there was a fire in my building," he said. "That's how clear the sound was."
The initial blast was followed by what sounded like a jet engine, he said. He watched as the largest flames lasted about 15 minutes.
"I looked out my window, and I saw this big old ball of flame," Shaffer said. "It was huge."
Refineries use hydrotreaters to help meet government standards for sulfur levels in their fuel, said Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. An air-quality monitor northwest of the refinery Thursday morning detected a slight increase in sulfur dioxide but nothing that exceeded standards, she said.
HollyFrontier told the DEQ that water used to extinguish the fire had been contained on site, McElhaney said, adding that DEQ personnel were working to verify that.
DEQ has not received information on a cause for the fire, McElhaney said.
The explosion occurred at the former Sinclair refinery, which HollyFrontier calls its Tulsa East facility.
The HollyFrontier complex made national headlines in April 2011 after fire erupted from Tank 13 at Tulsa West. The tank held slop oil, a mixture of refinery product and water, the company said at that time.
HollyFrontier initially theorized that lightning caused that fire but later refused to release the findings of its fire investigation.
The DEQ reported in April 2012, nearly one year later, that the company's investigators had determined that a bad valve had allowed hydrocarbons to slip into the wrong tank.
Dallas-based Holly Corp. bought Tulsa's Sunoco Inc. refinery, now called Tulsa West, in June 2009 and the nearby Sinclair refinery six months later in deals worth more than $300 million combined. The two are now operated as one facility connected by pipelines.
The company became HollyFrontier Corp. when Holly entered into a $7 billion merger with Houston-based Frontier Oil Corp. in 2011. The new company also has refineries in New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Kansas.
Tulsa refinery incidents
Thursday: Early-morning fire breaks out in diesel hydrotreater unit at HollyFrontier's Tulsa East (formerly Sinclair) plant. No cause reported.
April 22, 2011: Fire engulfs top of Tank 13 at Holly Corp.'s Tulsa West (formerly Sunoco) plant. No cause given until state DEQ released report a year later.
April 22, 2011: Crude distillation tower shut down for a week after structural problems.
January 2011: Boiler malfunction forces temporary shutdown at Holly's Tulsa West refinery.
January 2010: Holly employee Greg Horton burned after hot water gushed out of coke drum at Tulsa West.
May 2007: Sinclair Refinery (now Tulsa East) ordered to pay $5.5 million in damages and two former managers ordered under house arrest for manipulating wastewater discharge flows into the Arkansas River.
March 2005: Flare drum on gasoline processing unit explodes at Sinclair refinery, sending ball of fire into the air. No injuries reported.
Original Print Headline: Fire erupts at HollyFrontier refinery
Zach Stoycoff 918-581-8486 Rod Walton 918-581-8457
A diesel hydrotreater burns at HollyFrontier Corp. in west Tulsa early Thursday. MATT SHAFFER/Courtesy
A unit inside the HollyFrontier refinery in west Tulsa caught fire early Thursday after an explosion. The blaze burned for more than two hours. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World