WOODS CROSS -- Silver Eagle Refining continues to cautiously increase its production levels after a 2009 explosion rocked the refinery and surrounding area and temporarily suspended operations.
The refinery has now started its vacuum unit, which operates at a low pressure and has the capacity to process 5,000 barrels of oil per day, according to a news release issued by refinery spokeswoman Cindy Gubler.
The vacuum unit also refines "crude bottoms" to remove wax that the refinery sells for use in such items as crayons, candles and chewing gum.
In February 2010, the refinery restarted Crude-Oil Unit One, which can process about 10,250 barrels of crude per day. It has been operating smoothly for the past 11 months, Gubler said.
Silver Eagle Refining continues to work toward restarting the other units and equipment, she said.
With the two units online, the refinery is operating well below pre-explosion production.
"With the vacuum unit running and Crude-Oil Unit One, we're at about half of our production capacity," said Michael Smith, community care leader and administrator for Silver Eagle Refining.
Plant officials have yet to establish a startup date for Crude-Oil Unit Two, the unit in which the explosion occurred on Nov. 4, 2009, Smith said.
"Everything we do is driven by safety," he said.
The explosion, caused by a pipe failure, severely damaged five homes in the area of the refinery at 2355 S. 1100 West, officials said.
"It was a great miracle no one was injured," Smith said.
Before Crude-Oil Unit Two comes online, he said, plant officials are inspecting and reinspecting "inch-by-inch" the pipes associated with the unit, including X-raying the pipelines.
Oversight of the walk downs is being supervised by a certified American Petroleum Institute inspector now on staff, Smith said.
"What were doing now is preparing to bring Crude-Oil Unit Two online," he said. "We're not date-driven; we're safety-driven on this.
"If you're going to be certain, it takes this long."
The refinery has made tremendous changes since the 2009 incident, Smith said, though, prior to the explosion, the refinery was not neglected or poorly managed.
"There is inherent danger in anything," he said.
Woods Cross city has also been very engaged in the process, Smith said, with refinery staff reporting to city officials monthly.
"We are going to be transparent," he said.
City leaders like what they are hearing and seeing from the refinery operators.
"They have been very open," said City Administrator Gary Uresk.
Refinery officials regularly attend city council meetings to answer questions and allow city officials to tour the refinery to see what changes have and are being made, Uresk said.
"They have been working really hard. They have replaced a lot of things."
Silver Eagle Refining, with refineries in Woods Cross and Evanston, Wyo., employs about 120 people.