WyoFile Investigative Story: Communities at Risk

Reproduced by permission from WyoFile. Click here for the entire investigative piece, which includes interactive maps, an in-depth look at the track records of two Wyoming refineries, and much more.

CASPER — Wyoming Refining Co.’s oil refinery is situated literally on Main Street in Newcastle and a mere half-mile away from Newcastle High School. The school is equipped with a “panic button” that shuts off all ventilation in the building in the event of a toxic spill.

Given its close proximity, refinery officials are required to share with school board officials their Risk Management Plan detailing the potential human toll should there be a major leak of hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic and potentially deadly chemical.

The plan includes several scenarios and maps with circles drawn around the refinery, representing miles-wide areas where a hydrofluoric acid vapor cloud could injure or kill as it moves.

“People call them ‘circles of death,’” said Bob Neufeld, vice president of environment and government relations. “If local people want to know about the Risk Management Plan, we will talk to them about it. But we don’t hand out copies to people in the press.”

Because oil refineries are regarded as potential terrorist targets, refiners closely guard their risk management plans. But few Americans realize they may live in one of these “circles of death.”

At least 60,000 Wyomingites live in the potential fallout zones of hydrofluoric acid, or HF. The chemical is still in use at 50 U.S. oil refineries despite the availability of a safer alternative, according to a joint investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News.

The fallout zones in Wyoming are in Newcastle, an old coal-mining town in the northeast corner of the state, and in Cheyenne, the state capitol in the far southeast corner. Like Newcastle, Cheyenne hosts an old refinery with residential neighborhoods nearby.

Frontier Refining, Inc., in Cheyenne, like Wyoming Refining Co. in Newcastle, continues to use HF, a catalyst in the production of high-octane gasoline.

Although there’s been no catastrophic HF incident in the U.S., the potential threat of a terrorist attack or accident places some 16 million Americans at risk. Adding to the concern is a series of industry mishaps in recent years.

In Wyoming, a disproportionate number of refinery spills, fires, accidents and regulatory violations suggest weaknesses in both the operation and oversight of refineries that handle HF in close proximity to schools, daycares, homes, businesses and busy roadways.


Click here to read the entire investigative piece, which includes interactive maps, an in-depth look at the track records of two Wyoming refineries, and much more.

 

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READ OR DOWNLOAD — 1993 report to Congress by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that details the hazards associated with the production and uses of hydrofluoric acid and to makes recommendations about reducing these hazards based on the finding.

READ OR DOWNLOAD — Consent Decree between Wyoming Refining and the U.S. EPA.

READ OR DOWNLOAD — February 2009 settlement between Wyoming DEQ and Wyoming Refining of Newcastle agreeing on a $137,000 payment to the state for alleged violation of sulfide and ammonia limits.

READ OR DOWNLOAD — November 2009 settlement agreement between Wyoming DEQ and Wyoming Refining of Newcastle agreeing on a $159,600 payment to the state for alleged violation of ammonia effluent limits.

READ OR DOWNLOAD — August 2009 notice of violation from Wyoming DEQ to Wyoming Refining of Newcastle for alleged violation of effluent limits

READ OR DOWNLOAD — Consent Decree between Frontier Refining and the U.S. EPA.

READ OR DOWNLOAD — January 2009 settlement agreement between Wyoming DEQ and Frontier Refining of Cheyenne agreeing on a $850,000 payment to the state for alleged environmental violations.

READ OR DOWNLOAD — January 2009 settlement agreement between Wyoming DEQ and Frontier Refining of Cheyenne agreeing on a $461,656 payment to the state for multiple alleged violations in handling and cleaning up spilled hazardous wastes.

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