Woods Cross • Gloria Hillier is no stranger to oil splatter on her house. This is the third time it has happened since she has lived in Bountiful.
On Friday morning, Hillier and her husband, who have lived there for 50 years, sat outside on their patio. After they got up, they noticed their clothes were covered in grease. A fine coating of oil droplets had dusted her property. She spent the next two hours cleaning up all of her lawn furniture and railings around her home.
"It has been worse before," Hillier said as she noticed another dark spot on her front porch railing.
The latest dousing happened Thursday night, when a large metal oil storage tank's roof burst at the HollyFrontier refinery in Woods Cross. The eruption sent a swath of oil about a 40 yards wide and traveling through the air over Interstate 15 and up to 1 mile southeast of the refinery.
An estimated 8,400 gallons of oil landed on homes, businesses and cars in Woods Cross, West Bountiful and Bountiful. The refinery sits 393 S. 800 West in Woods Cross.
No injuries were reported.
On Friday morning, crews were cleaning at the Holly refinery, and officials said they planned to take care of any problems caused to residents. Cleanup could take several days.
Mike Astin, environmental manager with HollyFrontier Corp., said Friday the company believes water got into the heated tank and the resulting pressure "popped the roof on that tank."
Astin said the oil in the tank is "much heavier than the motor oil in your car" and must be kept at 300 degrees to keep it liquid. Water turned to steam and created pressure that burst the tank. He estimated the refinery lost about 200 barrels of oil when the tank burst at 6:45 p.m. Thursday. By 9 p.m., a plan was created and crews went out to notify residents close by.
Residents living farther away didn't find out until they walked right into it.
Julie Millward, who lives near 1400 S. 300 West in Bountiful, noticed her feet were covered in grease after walking in the lawn with her sandals on. There were micro-drops scattered all over her lawn and patio furniture. She smelled motor oil Thursday night, but didn't think much of it after looking outside and seeing nothing. But the fine mist of oil that covered her property has her worried enough to go to a doctor.
"I'm concerned about what I inhaled," she said. "Living close to the refinery, I wonder if it impacts our health."
She had to restrain her four grandchildren, ages 3 to 8, from playing in the grass, until it is mowed a few times and the oil is hopefully gone.
Astin said "if you were in the mist, it would have impacted you." The oil is not hazardous, although "there was structural damage and a mess to clean up."
The oil that spilled is similar to the kind to used when repairing roads, Astin said, adding that Holly sells it to companies for power generation and fuel for ships.
Crews are still investigating how the water got into the tank, which was holding more than 1.2 million gallons of oil. Astin said the answer may not come for several weeks if ever. There is no relief valve on the tank.
A number of residents in Bountiful figured out the hard way not to touch anything outside.
Julie Larsen said her 2-year-old toddler was playing in the grass with their yellow lab named Cliff. Both of them came into the house with grease marks all over them. Her husband turned on the wipers to his truck to get rid of the small black drops and grease smeared all over his windshield.
"It is crazy for it to spray all the way up here," she said. "It makes you wonder what is going to spill next time."
She is concerned about what the drops off oil are doing to the environment.
"It obviously is not healthy."
Thursday's accident occurred as the Holly, Tesoro and Chevron refineries along the Salt Lake and Davis county lines are seeking to expand their capacity to handle new black wax crude oil reserves being extracted in eastern Utah's Uinta Basin. Holly alone hopes to process 20,000 additional barrels per day of the viscous crude within the next two years.
West Bountiful resident Merrill Shupe said he has attended several hearings about Holly's expansion. Reached Friday, Shupe said his home, about a mile from the refinery, was not been affected by Thursday's accident, but he is worried about air quality.
"I believe they put in jeopardy the people living around here because of the abnormal smoke icons they're putting out in the air," Shupe said. "My feeling is that the city has given way to Holly rather than vice versa."
Thursday's spill was one of nearly 521 environment incidents at Utah's five refineries since 2000, with at least 85 percent of those reported at either the Holly site or nearby Tesoro and Chevron facilities, according to records from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. Nearly 200 of those accidents were investigated at the Holly refinery site alone since 2000, although at least 45 of those incidents occurred between 2000 and 2003, when the facility was managed by Phillips 66.
On Friday, Holly refinery owners reached out to those affected by the eruption, urging them to call a 24-hour phone line 801-560-5511 to get help with cleanup. He said 50 to 100 residents had called by midafternoon to report oil. The company also sent representatives to nearby areas to document damage and offer vouchers for car washes or other repairs.
Astin advises those who were in the path of the oil and smelled it in their homes to change air-cooling filters and "give us the bill." A fund for the cleanup reimbursement costs has be set up at a credit union so people can be paid quickly, Astin said. By the afternoon, air, water and environmental experts with the state were taking water and soil samples to determine any danger.
Pam Nichols, a veterinarian and owner of Animal Care Center, located at 698 W. 500 South, about a block east of the refinery, was pleased with the quick and helpful response.
"When something bad happens, Holly is like flies on stink, they just want to make sure things are taken care of," Nichols said. "They are really, really good neighbors."
She said the company is paying to resod her lawn, which was covered with oil, and crews spread sand on other surfaces to absorb the oil.
Nichols said she got a call from the refinery at 11:30 p.m. Thursday, warning her not to go out back of her facility, saying it was "really messy."
"It basically covered the back of the building," she said, adding that she and her employees had been washing the feet of pets with a degreaser after the animals went outside to relieve themselves.
Woods Cross Mayor Kent Parry said he'd received about 10 calls from residents and business owners Friday morning.
"The concerns have been the overall impact on the environment," Parry said, "and whether it will affect our drinking-water supply."
Parry said the aquifer should be safe since it sits about 400 feet underground.
The refinery had contracted with three companies to pressure-wash roads and buildings.
Refinery workers also laid a half a dozen oil absorption booms to keep the sticky grease substance from spreading further into a nearby canal. There was a report of a sheen of oil at the retention pond where the canal originates, Astin said.
Residents in the mobile-home park east of the canal near 700 West and 500 South received notification fliers in their mailbox last night and noted a strong motor oil smell. Some just hope it won't ruin their plants and garden.
Mark Thomas, owner of the Paint Spot auto body repair shop at 952 S. 500 West in Bountiful, said that about 30 vehicles parked outside in various stages of repair were coated with a black granular film of oil.
"You can see it on the parking lot, the building, the skylights. It's a light dusting over everything," Thomas said of the residue. "It doesn't look like the oil has damaged the [vehicle] paint at all."
Hillier said in the 1970s a spew of oil covered the windows of their home near 1300 S. 400 West in Bountiful, but she worries about how much worse it is for those live closer in Woods Cross. She says she doesn't blame the refinery because they have been there much longer, but the city for allowing building permits.
"I feel bad that the city allowed for land to be sold to homeowners around there," she said. About the Holly refinery
It has a total crude oil capacity of 31,000 barrels per day, according to owner HollyFrontier Corp.'s website. The facility specializes in processing regional sweet and black wax crude as well as Canadian crude. Woods Cross' refined products are marketed primarily in Utah, Idaho, Nevada,Wyoming and eastern Washington.
Only a handful of the accidents investigated by state officials since 2000 at the Holly site were officially referred to as spills. Most involved equipment failures that led to unauthorized releases of sulphur-based compounds typically sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide or sulfuric acid either into the atmosphere through the plant's flares or, in some cases, spilled onto the ground.
In 2008, a mishap at Holly in transferring volatile liquids from a transport rail car dumped at least 50 gallons of diesel fuel on the refinery grounds.
Fires have been reported at least twice at the facility since 2000, once in 2007 when oil was mistakenly piped into one of the refinery's flares, and again in 2008, when workers repairing an alkalizer unit ignited some of the fuel it contained. That blaze spread to other areas of the refinery but not beyond the refinery fence line, state records say.