Once owned by BP Amoco, this refinery was built in 1908 by the Lubra Oils Manufacturing Company. It was the first refinery in the Salt Lake area to produce lubricating oils, harness dressings and lamp oil. It could process seven barrels of Wyoming crude a day. A century later, the refinery is ranked 95th largest in the nation, with a daily production of 58,000 barrels.
The year after construction began, John C. Howard incorporated the Utah Refining Company and put the finishing touches on the plant. It became an Amoco refinery in 1963. In 2001, it was part of a $677-million purchase by Tesoro Petroleum, an independent refining company, which also included BP's refinery in Mandan, North Dakota, as well as eight product distribution terminals, bulk storage centers and pipelines.
The Refinery Today
The Tesoro refinery sits on 145 acres in Salt Lake City and employs 205 people. It's the largest oil refinery in the state of Utah. It processes crude oil from Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Canada, making gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as liquefied petroleum and heavy fuel oils. It also supplies jet fuel to Salt Lake City International Airport and US Air Force bases in Utah and Idaho. The refinery also operates as an electricity co-generation facility, selling $300,000 worth of electricity to Utah Power. It is the only co-generation facility in a refinery in the state.
On October 29, 2009, a fire occurred at the site. Although there were no injuries, smoke and flames were visible throughout the Salt Lake area. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced that it would investigate.
Salt Lake City Refinery and Asbestos
In cases where excessive heat or fire was a concern, asbestos was the insulator of choice for most of the 20th century. Asbestos-containing materials, therefore, were commonly used when constructing facilities such as Salt Lake City Refinery. Along with being temperature-resistant and a fire retardant, certain forms of asbestos are also particularly impervious to chemical reactions. Because of the nature of the work that occurs at refineries, asbestos, therefore, appeared not only in plant structures, but also in bench tops, protective clothes and lab equipment. The ironic thing with asbestos is that although it does a great job of guarding against the damage associated with high heat and flames - it is one of the most effective insulators known and has been used for this purpose since ancient times - at the same time it poses significant risks to human well being.
Amosite was most often the variety of asbestos utilized in these facilities. Amosite is one of the amphibole forms of asbestos, which is commonly thought to be more prone to lead to health problems than the serpentine form. Although it was disallowed for construction purposes in the 1970s, this amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, was utilized for decades in oil refineries and chemical plants throughout the US.
As with cement, asbestos transite could be molded into working surfaces and sprayed onto ductwork and pipes. This form of asbestos did not offer a health risk so long as it remained solid. Tiny particles of asbestos are released into the air, however, as this transite ages and becomes prone to becoming powdery. That is, such asbestos is friable, or able to be pulverized by hand pressure alone. Laboratory ovens also frequently contained friable asbestos as part of their insulation linings.
Why Is Friable Asbestos a Problem?
When friable, asbestos fibers are readily dispersed into the air. Inhaling asbestos particles can result in diseases such as asbestosis or cancer. Pleural mesothelioma, a rare and often lethal disease of the mesothelium (the lining between the lungs and the pleural cavity), is strongly linked with exposure to asbestos. Swallowing asbestos fibers, as may occur when those tiny fibers enter the air and settle on food or drinks, may lead to pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma.
Mounting pressure from the medical community and concerned citizens resulted in regulations controlling the use of asbestos. However, when oil refineries like Salt Lake City Refinery were built, the use of asbestos was more common. And in far too many cases workers used asbestos-containing materials without the protection of respirators or other protective gear.
The Lurking Hazard of Asbestos
One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is that resulting diseases may take many, many years to manifest - often long after a worker has left the employer. Given such a lag time between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms, a worker might not connect the current health problem with work he or she did up to 40 years earlier. So, it is very important for all that worked in or resided around plants like the Salt Lake City Refinery to ask their health care professionals for a mesothelioma treatment guide.Furthermore, all those who shared homes with these people are also at risk; unless strict decontamination protocols, such as the use of on-site uniforms and showers, were followed, it was all too common for personnel to bring asbestos dust on their persons or their clothes. When found early there is a chance the disease can be treated; early diagnosis is crucial as there is no mesothelioma cure.Sources
Midwest CHP Application Center - Tesoro Petroleum: 22-MW CHP Application
Tesoro Petroleum Company - Company Website
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal
US Energy Information Administration - U.S. Refineries* Operable Capacity
Walter Jones - The Growth of Utah's Petroleum Industry