Fire shuts down Valdez oil refinery

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008

ANCHORAGE - The Petro Star refinery in Valdez remained closed Tuesday after a fire that caused extensive damage to a processing unit and associated pipelines.

Tara Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, said company officials were trying to determine the extent of the damage. Until that is known, Sweeney said it is impossible to say just when the refinery would be back in production.

The cause of the fire is not yet known. No one was injured.

"We are still trying to assess what sort of damage there is as a result of the fire," Sweeney said.

Petro Star, a subsidiary of the ASRC, operates the small refinery. It produces a number of petroleum products, all of which are sold in Alaska. Petro Star's other refinery is in North Pole. The two refineries produce 250 million gallons of refined product a year.

The Valdez refinery takes about 48,000 barrels of oil from the trans-Alaska pipeline. From that, it produces about 13,000 barrels of product, or approximately 9,000 barrels of jet fuel, 3,000 barrels of diesel and 300 barrels of fuel used to generate electricity for the local utility.

The fire was reported at 10:43 p.m. Sunday. More than 30 firefighters, including the fire brigades at Petro Star and the nearby Alyeska oil tanker port, needed two hours to put out the blaze. The weather at the time was in the single digits and blowing snow.

Valdez resident Roy Hansen said he drove to the east end of the boat harbor to watch the fire a few miles away. Hansen said flames were leaping 300 feet into the air.

"I've never seen a refinery go up like that," Hansen said. "About three times it was what looked like small explosions. Just a huge fireball rolled up all of a sudden."

Sweeney said the fire was contained to the production area. The refinery's operations rooms were not affected.

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