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UPDATE: Co-op confirms another refinery fire in Regina Monday

No injuries and fire was put out at 1 a.m.
Reported by CJME staff
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An explanation of how another fire and possible explosion happened at the Federated Co-Op refinery in Regina is likely a long way off but the company is adamant their facility is safe.

Calls came in to the News Talk Radio newsroom early Monday morning reporting massive flames at the upgrader site.

"The upgrader is on fire again," stated one, "and it's shooting flames probably 80 feet in the air." "I just noticed black smoke coming from the upgrader," warned another. Others on social networking web site Twitter reported witnessing an explosion that triggered flames 70 feet high. (Have photos? Share them by e-mailing to webnews@rawlco.com)

While there wasn't much information available during the morning, the company confirmed the fire, saying that no one had been injured and the fire was extinguished in about a half an hour. Regina's Deputy Fire Chief Gerard Kay added that city fire crews were staged outside the facility and let the refinery fire crews handle the flames.

At a further briefing Monday afternoon, Vic Huard, Co-Op's vice-president of corporate affairs, offered a bit more detail to reporters assembled in the plant's administration building.

"Around 12:20 am there was a fire in a coker unit pump house here in section two of the refinery complex. That fire, through our standard operating procedure, triggered alarms... The fire was contained and extinguished by 1:00 am."

In an email sent to reporters late Monday, Huard said there were three contractors working on the site when the fire broke out.

"They were accounted for back at their gate of entry within 20 minutes of the event" Huard wrote.

He also explained that the coker unit pump had undergone minor maintainance at the end of January 2013, and again the first week of February. The last major maintainance turnaround was done in April of 2010. Another had been scheduled for April of this year.

The explosion also put a hit in production, reducing output by about 10,000 barrels a day on the heavy crude asphalt-processing side of their operations, down from about 55,000 barrels. The pump house that was affected is one of 33 processing units on the grounds. The unit itself hasn't been upgraded since 1988, though the equipment and piping inside it is consistently checked and inspected.

Huard expects that output impact to be "very minimal." He adds that there shouldn't be any impact on the market, insisting the plant has plenty of stock on-hand.

This is the third significant fire at the refinery in the last year and a half. Back in October of 2011, an explosion erupted in a unit that was involved in processing diesel fuel. At least 10 people were injured in that blast, which was also responsible for $100 million in damage and lost productivity. It took nearly a year for the refinery and the fire department to reveal the cause for that blast, explaining that corrosion had left a pipe in a diesel-processing pipe thin-walled. Pressure and heat created by the moving fuel created a hydro-static build-up and eventually triggered a spark, causing the ignition. Federated Co-ops pledged to improve their pipe analysis and replacement programs, citing a list of more than 20 changes that would be undertaken to improve safety.

Another fire happened in May of last year in another pump house, triggering the evacuation of 350 contract workers. No one was injured.

Huard isn't connecting any dots between the incidents, however.

"It's a completely unrelated pumping unit, very much in a different part of the refinery, very long distance apart, doing different process units," he stressed, before insisting that the rate of recent fires is likely nothing more than "bad timing."

"We're disappointed this is the third fire in 16 months, there's no question. To put people's minds at ease, I guess what I'd say is this is a big complex. One fire is too many, as we said before, but these are relatively minor fires in a complex of this scope. And as far as putting people's minds at ease there was never any moment during this fire or the one in May or the one in October of 2011 where the public was in danger. They were contained to relatively small areas of an otherwise large complex, there were no ground-level releases of toxin outside the fence line that anyone needed to be concerned about.  But again, are we disappointed? Absolutely we're disappointed. Are we concerned? Yes we are. And are we working very hard to fix it? Yes we are."

He says the design of the plant ensures a "Hollywood-style" mass destruction scenario could literally never happen.

He went on to cite the 19-point safety plan that was created after the October 2011 fire as one area where the company is working to improve the situation. He says analysis of infrastructure at the plant has been refocused after last year's fire as well.

Huard also pointed out that the plant had a very good safety record in the two decades before those incidents, pointing out the October 2011 was only the second major incident in the refinery's history. He concedes that their safety record used to be among the best in the industry but he admits he "can't say that now." When asked if employees have any reason to fear for their safety, Huard said there wasn't a single employee registered any major safety concerns or left the company because of them.

The investigation into the incident will be headed up by the city's Fire and Protective Service branch and its fire inspectors. Both Huard and deputy fire chief Gerard kay expect it will be some time before the cause is nailed down, noting it took the better part of a year to diagnose the cause of the 2011 explosions and fire.

Still, Kay insists he has no reason to fear for the city's safety.

"This is a highly-regulated industry and they use a lot of the information we provide them as far as previous investigations to improve their product."

He went on to say that it's "very comforting" to see the thorough response of the refinery's dedicated fire crews.

Vic Huard, Co-Op's vice-president of corporate affairs, addresses the media on Feburary 11, 2013.  Patrick Book/CJME News.

Edited by CJME's Patrick Book and Courtney Mintenko.