FBI, police investigate possible sabotage at Sinclair refinery

2012-10-31T17:28:00Z 2012-10-31T22:48:04Z FBI, police investigate possible sabotage at Sinclair refineryBy ADAM VOGE Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
October 31, 2012 5:28 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — The FBI and local police are investigating an alleged sabotage attempt at a Wyoming refinery last month.

Sinclair Oil is offering employees and contractors at its refinery near Rawlins a $25,000 reward after workers discovered damage to a number of valves in the refinery the morning of Oct. 18, the company said.

"We spent time internally talking to people to see if a mistake had been made," Sinclair spokesman Clint Ensign said. "By the next day it was obvious that this was an intentional act."

Workers at the Sinclair Wyoming Refinery in the town of Sinclair first noticed odd feedback from instrumentation on a hydro-cracking unit, Ensign said. The workers discovered that a valve had stopped working and then found additional damaged valves.

Sinclair alerted local police, the FBI and the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Ensign said.

The company also beefed up security at access points to both the refinery campus and individual refinery units. The campus is normally guarded by security, but Ensign said he wasn't sure whether the refinery has any video surveillance.

Ensign declined to comment about whether there were any signs of forced entry. He added that the act "doesn't look like" terrorism.

Sinclair Police Chief Jeff Sanders confirmed Wednesday that his department is investigating the matter. He declined to comment further.

OSHA spokeswoman Hayley Douglass said her agency was made aware of what happened and sent investigators to the refinery to make sure the unit was up to code. She also said the FBI is investigating the matter.

FBI spokesman Dave Joly declined to comment on "our interactions at Sinclair" and directed questions to the company. When asked directly whether the bureau is investigating the matter, he said he could neither confirm nor deny and again directed questions to Sinclair.

Workers handled the problem promptly and correctly, Ensign said. He wouldn't comment on how long the valves were inoperable or how long they would have to not work to cause damage, but he did say they could have eventually forced a compressor unit to shut down.

No one was injured in the incident.

Ensign said even if the compressor had been damaged, the danger to the surrounding community would have been small.

"There was no danger to people or to other equipment," he said. "The compressor just would have failed and the unit would have shut down."

The possible sabotage attempt is the latest in a series of incidents this year at the refinery. Two May fires burned six employees, three seriously. Fires hit the refinery twice more in August but burned only one employee, who was quickly released from the hospital.

OSHA fined the company about $215,000 in early October for violations discovered after the May fires.

Ensign said employees handled the possible attempt at "property destruction" as well as they could have.

"The refinery workers monitoring the unit, both that were handling the instrumentation and walking the unit, they really did the exactly right thing," he said. "They did an excellent job."

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