Silver Eagle's tarnished safety record at its Woods Cross oil refinery would lead a cautious observer to suggest that there ought to be a blast zone free of homes on its periphery. Unfortunately, there is not an easy way to achieve that today, years after a developer convinced Woods Cross officials that it would be safe to build homes near the refinery.
The shock wave from an explosion at the refinery last week blew one home off its foundation, rendering it uninhabitable, and broke walls, windows and doors at others. The report was felt as far away as Farmington. Fortunately, the blast did not injure anyone. Federal regulators are investigating the cause.
To its credit, the refinery is standing the expense of repairs to its neighbors' properties, but that is not a long-term solution to the danger that the facility appears to pose.
Longtime residents of southern Davis County and northern Salt Lake City, where a handful of oil refineries are located, know from experience that the business comes with risk. Most of the refineries are not cheek to jowl with residential neighborhoods. That's as it should be. Local planning and zoning should not allow homes near them.
The city of Woods Cross should investigate whether it is possible to create a safety zone retroactively around the Silver Eagle refinery. Perhaps the city, the homeowners and the refinery could come to some accommodation. A beginning might be to not rebuild the home that is virtually a total loss. In the current housing market, it might be possible to provide the resources to relocate that homeowner at a relatively modest cost if she were willing, and never allow a new home to be built on the site.
What to do for others in the neighborhood might be more problematic and expensive.
Short of that, nearby residents will have to put their faith in regulators who oversee the safety of oil refineries. Given the checkered safety record at Silver Eagle, that might be asking a lot.
Obviously this should be a cautionary tale for Woods Cross. Its mayor told The Tribune that when a landowner requested permission to build the subdivision near the refinery about six years ago, the City Council commissioned an engineer to study the risk. That study identified potential problems, but the council eventually accepted an alternative report prepared by a firm hired by the developer.
City leaders should take note. As population pressures continue to build in Davis County, this issue isn't going away.