A quick look of headlines about the Sinclair refinery near Rawlins paints a grim picture:

  • May 2012: "Fire at Sinclair oil refinery in Wyoming burns four"
  • May 2012: "Another fire at Sinclair refinery fire in Wyoming injures two"
  • August 2012: "No injuries reported in Sinclair Oil Corp. refinery fire near Rawlins"
  • October 2012: "Wyoming OSHA fines Sinclair $155,000 for May 8 refinery fire"
  • October 2012: "EPA fines Sinclair $378,000 for violations at Rawlins refinery"
  • February 2013: "Wyoming OSHA hits Sinclair refinery with another round of fines"
  • September 2013: "Explosion rocks Sinclair refinery"
  • October 2013: "Wyoming OSHA slaps Sinclair refinery with record $707,000 in fines"
  • December 2013: "Fire at Sinclair refinery near Rawlins burns for nearly 7 hours, but nobody injured"
  • April 2014: "Sinclair Refinery could face $201,000 fine by OSHA"

Get the picture? See the pattern? Of course you do. So do we: Fire, fine, fire, fine.

But it doesn't seem Sinclair sees it the same way -- or perhaps it doesn't care. Despite years of safety problems that have burned away skin, left scars and damaged lives, Sinclair simply isn't doing what it takes to make the refinery a safe place to work, despite millions of dollars in fines.

Does Sinclair consider such fines -- and the ongoing danger to workers -- just a cost of doing business? What will it take for the company to take its problems at the refinery near Rawlins seriously? Millions of dollars in fine don't seem to make a difference, and we imagine safety regulators are just as frustrated with Sinclair as we are.

We don't accept the excuse that the refinery is an industrial facility. Other refineries do the same work with far fewer flames and far less human cost. A Star-Tribune analysis of federal data in 2013 showed that Wyoming refineries, on a per-barrel basis, were cited for unsafe working conditions more often than refiners elsewhere in the U.S in the previous two years. In large part, Sinclair's refinery near Rawlins swung the needle. Wyoming refineries were cited 205 times for safety violations. More than half were levied against Sinclair.  

So that brings us to today. Last week, a government safety agency once more smacked Sinclair with fines, this time totaling $201,000 for safety violations stemming from a September fire. Nobody was hurt in the blaze. But yet again, investigators found violations that were caused by Sinclair’s indifference or willful disregard for safety regulations -- the same story, over and over.

Every time there’s a fire or fines at the refinery, Sinclair trots out a spokesperson to assure us things have changed for the better, citing the company's deep concern, or new safety enhancements or its membership in a state refinery safety group.

Enough.

We're not a regulatory agency. We can't issue millions of dollars in fines, or threaten Sinclair with a plant shutdown until it figures out its safety failures. All we can do is write these words, and watch from the sidelines as more fires consume more flesh while Sinclair assures us everything will get better soon.

We're not buying that line anymore, and we call on you, our readers, and safety regulators to do whatever you can to make Sinclair take its problems seriously.

It's time to crank up the heat.

(30) comments

Sassy
Sassy

You have got to be kidding me- Your headline is shameful....

jackel

My father was kill due to a refinery accident, I was 19 at the time. Today safety compared to then is a huge, yes huge improvement. We all know truck trains autos and planes run a flamable liquid, not water. To produce this product requires risk and the men and women who walk through the gates at Sinclair do it by choice. Sinclair oil refinery has made huge improvements to the facilities in the last 16 years, and again with changes comes risk, for today the quality involves training and this training is not black and white as this print. Mistakes will happen, just look at the space shuttle incidents.
Carbon County has a very good industry, that provides jobs and steady employment, which takes care of their employees. I think your paper has written several article about DKRW.. Well, other people thought this project would have produced far greater risk to all of Carbon County, not just Rawlins or Sinclair. I wonder did you ever think about the risk from that facility as your paper produced the articles?
Granted regulations are a must for these facilities, but at least this refinery is updating and like all things in Wyoming updating creates change which enhances the working environment. I should know from experience and today is a thousand times better for the employees and families. KRC

Wyopoke

I've worked at the Sinclair Wyoming refinery and nobody deserves to work in that hole. NAPTHA literally runs out like groundwater when you drill a caisson. It's a death trap and it's dishonest and disingenuous to insinuate that by hiring on to the refinery you by default assume the risk of your environment.

I'll address the Casper refinery above.

Know Before You Blow

Don't be silly....Everyone assumes the risk of their job choices. ..some are higher than others... policemen, firemen, pilots, rig workers, highrise window washers, refinery workers, even some contractors.

...just sounds like more sqeaking.

Rob Davidson

Yes some jobs are riskier than others, but this is 2014 and there is procedures, personal equipment, and engineering we can all demand in our workplaces, from our lawmakers, and our supervisors to go home after every shift safe and sound.

thehousemouse

since we have all but killed most of the refineries that once worked men in the thousands. and suffocating regulations have all but destroyed whats left a of way for America to refine and use its own products and get out of the un nations pocket and opec. I would say if they were not paying so much in regulations requirement they could afford to fix some old outdated equipment. " when your spending billions on just trying meet every little regulation then how can you update your facility.

Triple BB

A friend of mine who's an engineer at a power plant said they studied in a college the cost analysis of factoring in these kinds of fines as part of the cost of doing business. No surprise that Sinclair accountants and engineers have probably decided its cheaper to pay these chump change fines than spend millions to rebuild or retrofit dangerous aspects of their operations.

Know Before You Blow

...so much for that college education. In no study have I heard of in my MBA studies was the risk to life and limb, the cost of doing business....unless of course you're in the military. And if you don't know the facts, how can you speak to the issue?

Triple BB

Looks like Wyopoke just backed up my contention and slammed you in the process...

Know Before You Blow

...it maybe why Wyopoke no longer works at the plant...could be he knows too much about incidents and not enough about safety.....hmmmm

Wyopoke

Sorry there Know - never been hurt on the job and was never directly involved in an incident - only dodging panicking bodies and repairing the damage.

You are awfully defensive - are you part of the plant management staff?

Comment deleted.
Wyopoke

I have worked in the Casper Sinclair (Little America) Refinery and that place is staffed and managed by the finest people I've worked with in my 25 yrs in the industry. MUCH different than the Rawlins(Sinclair) refinery.

Casper is near, well maintained and operated by highly conscious safety oriented folks who make the most with the least since they are at the end of the food chain in Sinclair with Tulsa and Rawlins getting what money is invested in upgrades for the most part.

In contrast the Rawlins refinery is a death trap and the shame of the state as far as industrial safety is concerned and I hope to never step foot there again. See my other comment below and in the "Open Air Question".

You are correct to say it is unfair to compare the Casper facility to the others. But it's also short sighted to assume the other facilities have the same high level of professionalism and dedication that the Casper facility does. I told the Casper people how proud they should be of their hard work and dedication and they had absolutely no idea how bad it is down south.

Know Before You Blow

It would be helpful and more of a public service if you actually knew what you were talking about. First and foremost the refinery is over 91 years old....how well could you function at that age. Current and previous management have put together excellent safety programs, training and constant (and mandatory) measures to ensure safety. This in addition to working cooperatively with OSHA to guarantee that everything is done efficiently and expeditiously. To coin a phrase, "Things happen". Can you guarantee the efficiency of thousands of joints, valves, pipes and machinery every second? That is what the men and women of the Sinclair Refinery are endeavoring to do every time they walk onsight! With newer technologies, expertise in process management, and a well trained staff, the employees of the refinery are rebuilding this 'senior citizen' a joint and valve and process at a time...and it's working. How presumptuous of you to think that the company does not care....the employees are the company, and you've insulted them all.
Did you not read the part that said OHSA is considering....a fine....emphasis on considering. And did you not read the part that said there were no injuries? And oh, did you not read the part that said there were only seven violations, (versus the many you cited)? Perhaps the wording for the violations is archaic...maybe you should ask OSHA to refine their language. All refinery employees are responsible for safety. Safety will be a matter of employee vigilance and the repair and upkeep of '91 year old bones'.
Couch coaching is easy...why not get off your duff and do some real journalism...have you even ever been to the refinery?

Wyopoke

Yup been there experienced an explosion and put the cooling tower back together over Christmas afterwards.

OSHA rules apply to all facilities regardless of age. Worked in Casper too and that facility is just as old but maintained in impeccable condition better than most new facilities.

The difference is professional and caring management dedicated to craft safety. In Rawlins it's every man for himself.

They even balk when a contractor requests asbestos abatement.

I DO know what I'm talking about and the only crime is throwing a fine facility and it's employees like Casper in with the wild bunch at Rawlins.

Caring in Sinclair

Since I do not recall a cooling tower explosion, you are obviously reliving the past. What "Know Before you Blow" is telling you is what is currently happening at the refinery. Things change and things are currently changing for the good at the Sinclair Refinery.

Wyopoke

They may be and I hope they are for the sake of the plant workers. It's just too bad it's taken as many catastrophes to effect change.

The cooling tower explosion is a fact - happened when we were heading up vessels. Caused by flammables discharged into an open drain and the fumes being drawn into a cooling tower by the ID fans. Spark was from a suck truck discharging into the same open drain.

Wyopoke

And yes I AM reliving my past experience. Not sure how else one gets such experience unless it is in the past....

FishWyoming

Shame, Shame, Shame on you! Get the facts before you demonstrate your total ignorance when you write an article. Lack of integrity smells here to the highest level - We are all wondering what your motivation is - I'm sure there are $$$ involved in some fashion. & Wyopoke, I hope you don't get paid by Sinclair Oil - you are obviously very misinformed or perhaps you were asked not to work in the Sinclair, Sinclair Refinery. The is always reasons people lie....It just makes me wonder.....

Caring in Sinclair

Thank you. Wyopoke is definitely misinformed.

Wyopoke

Sorry folks been in both and seem it with my own eyes. Bear in mind there are great people at both Rawlins and Casper. It's the management in Rawlins and subsequently SLC. And things have gotten worse and worse since Mr. Holdings passed.

The sad truth is that the good hands working the refinery deserve more.

You will also notice I've drawn clear distinction between Casper and Rawlins.

I have absolutely no reason to lie. I work for a very large contractor and I've been in both. I'm not banned from either refinery.

Is it possible that FishWyoming and Caring in Sinclair are part of management and thus part of the problem? Is it possible these two are the ones misinformed or do they work in the refinery and accustomed to the constant state of disrepair and simply don't know any better.

The good people at the refinery certainly deserve better I can tell you that.

Know Before You Blow

It's very clear you haven't been there for a while. Hmm you know what they say about the squeaky wheel, "it sometimes just needs to be replaced". Perhaps that is your experience. Maybe you too should make a visit and talk to those employees you use to work with...they after all are still there , voluntarily, and making a huge difference.

And yes, employees are responsible for their safety and that of their fellow workers. It is the employees who first witness and report infractions, incidents and sometimes contractors who are unaware of safety measures. That is standard and OSHA required procedure in any manufacturing environment. But you don't seem to know that.

And your knowledge of the two refineries goes only as far as knowing that they are both refineries. They hugely vary in size and produce different products for different markets, using different machinery...but maybe you were unaware of that as well...or couldn't hear because of all of the squeaking.

Lodgepole

I know someone working there....you are correct, Wyopoke.

We don't use cruise control in the rain because it's dangerous.
Coasting on past management practices and spinning the truth is dangerous, too.

Wyopoke

Know B4 u Blow:

I've been in this industry over 25 yrs and I can tell you that while it is absolutely good practice to have employees involved and engaged in safety OSHA places the burden of safety on the Company. Employe engagement is absolutely not mandated in either OSHA CFR 1910 or 1926. If I missed it please cut and paste the section for me.

Additionally this is process not manufacturing. Apples to Oranges.

Last word on the topic, I am familiar with what each refinery produces. However the product is not germaine to the application of safety standards. The rules apply equally and no exceptions are made based on process. Dangerous is dangerous. If you can find an exception in the above referenced CFR I would appreciate if you would enlighten me by cutting and pasting those as well.

Know Before You Blow

Squeak...
And to answer your later question I am a research assistant for an industry regulatory agency....and I've randomly interviewed current employees there. The findings tend to agree with your past assessments but strongly disagree that that is the current, (12-18 month), working situation. I enjoy intellectual sparing...too bad all I got here was complaints and rantings with no salient solutions.
...enjoyed the exercise though.

Wyopoke

Fair enough - I have not been in the plant for a couple of years so what you say may be true. For the sake of the employees I hope so.

Comment deleted.
Kogia

Are you serious? Boasting about the fact that you haven't had an accident in seven months, after having a string of accidents over the past few years? Many refineries are able to go years without a single serious incident, including facilities that are larger and more complex than either of Sinclair's facilities. The OSHA violations for which fines are being proposed included two willful violations, that is (in OSHA's language), "A violation in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety." These were not minor, nitpicky violations--these were things that OSHA had warned Sinclair about and they did nothing to fix them. Having two willful violations (as well as a repeat violation) isn't something that happens at facilities with management teams that take safety seriously. That simply is not happening in Rawlins.

TruBlueWyo

I too enjoy some intellectual debate. There are some very good comments above and I appreciate the feeling of needing to protect the workers of the refinery. However, perhaps you should talk to them a little more. I am a worker at the Sinclair refinery (near Rawlins) and I can tell you that I feel very safe and proud to be in that plant. No, I am not in management. Yes, I know there is a history that goes back longer than I have been alive. I am a normal worker and part of the Sinclair family.

Like our brothers in the Casper refinery, we work hard in our plant to make it safe and efficient in order to provide all of you the gasoline and diesel that you need to make your life go around. Each of us workers has the right and responsibility to stop any unsafe work practice. We process a very sour crude that has its risks. It can be VERY hard on the equipment. We are trained well to identify and minimize problems. The company has invested a lot of money to minimize these risks and make this a safer place to work. As we recognize areas we can do better, the entire team works to identify and mitigate issues. Each incident helps us to do a little bit better. Training and culture has been changed to make this a safer place to work. The company goes above and beyond the reporting responsibilities to OSHA (most plants do not report all the little problems that we self report). The company goes above and beyond the responsibility to try and be transparent with the Casper Star. I can see if the only information you had came from snipits or just headlines, but I'd like to add my two cents as a normal employee of Sinclair that I am safe, we are working to make sure our entire family here is safe, and we are working to make our community a better place.

Yes, I have friends that got burned a few years ago. It tore me up. I also have friends that have died in car accidents outside of the refinery. That was hard. I didn't go and close the highways because of it though. With the refinery incidnet, I helped brainstorm of ways we can help reduce the risks.

So in response to the article, Sinclair DOES care about its refinery. Yes, it can be a little dangerous (like many other jobs), but I am willing to take the risk given the many protections that have been given me. I know our management cares about us from the actions they have taken. I would like all of the readers to know that we are doing well and will continue to make products that you can use. Thanks for all you do for our communities, whether it be provide electricity, patrol our streets, teach school, distribute our food or any of the numerous other honorable jobs. Thank you sincerely.

Wyopoke

Thanks for jumping in here TBW. Stay alert and stay safe down there!

Rob Davidson

I worked in motor fuels pipelines in Wyoming for 22 years. I did not once receive a recordable injury and only witnessed two in the terminal or pipeline facility that I worked. A reasonable person needs to simply compare the safety records of the other regional refineries, especially the three in Billings; Phillips 66 (Conoco), Exxon, and medium sized refiner Cenex in Laurel to see how horrific the situation in Sinclair is. In Wyoming we have by law emasculated our state OSHA for decades, abdicating worker safety to the Feds, which then becomes the official state blame game for all safety woes of Wyoming companies. Absolute zero tolerance of safety lapses, from operators to senior managers is possible when the management accepts the principle. Honestly I did not think zero was possible, then working for major oil company and saw the month's worst safety lapses in global corporation were a cut in a bagel slicer on a tanker and wasp stings from opening a switch box.
I am old enough to remember when excessive drinking was tolerated as a cost of stress of being a driller.
Regulations did not cost Casper its old Texaco (SOCONY) or Amoco refineries, it simply did not make business sense to refit the ancient hulks. Wyoming would have so bent the rules to accommodate them,or if actually rebuilt, would have made them world class efficient and driven old Sinclair off the cliff in this market. Can you imagine how much safer they would have been?

TruBlueWyo

Rob. I agree with you. Any industry should compare itself to the industrial standard. I can't imagine the safety lapses that were tolerated back when you started. Drinking definitely would not be my choice on a drilling rig. I'm glad things have changed.

Did you know that the refinery industry has a safety measurement called TRIR? Did you know that Sinclair, Sinclair has been below the industry average the last few years. We had one bad year in 2012, but before that we were below average also? It is a shame you don't know that, because that means that the public perception is skewed.

You are right. Our goal is zero issues. We work for that everyday. Thanks for your comments.

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