Onida ethanol plant explosion: still no answers

On Monday morning, the South Dakota State Fire Marshal was at the ethanol plant to help investigate the cause of the explosion.
Published: Jul. 10, 2023 at 7:19 PM CDT
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ONIDA, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Many Onida residents still have questions about the explosion that occurred at Ringneck Energy on Sunday afternoon, but it might be a while before any answers are available.

On Monday, every business in Onida was filled with chatter about what happened Sunday afternoon. The 668 residents of the small town were swapping stories about the bang they heard or the jolt they felt. Mostly, the community was expressing their relief that no one was hurt. One question, however, hovered above all the rest; what happened?

The explosion occurred shortly after 1 p.m. on July 9. Ringneck Energy is located just a few miles south of the heart of the Onida community and east of Highway 83. There were six employees in the building at the time of the explosion, but no injuries were reported.

“There were three in the process building and three in the energy center,” said Ringneck Energy President and CEO Walter Wendland.

On Monday morning, the South Dakota State Fire Marshal was at the ethanol plant to help investigate the cause of the explosion. Shortly before noon, crews were inspecting the site of the explosion.

”We had a meeting with the Fire Marshal this morning and we looked at everything there is to see in the plant. There’s some good news and some not-so-good news, but in all, it looks better than maybe we expected,” said Wendland.

The not-so-good news is that if Ringneck needs to replace equipment, current supply chain issues are going to set back operations from resuming. Wendland said they expect to be waiting a year for some replacement parts.

”We can see the equipment might have survived, but there’s still some real supply chain issues in our industry and in manufacturing in general. So, if we have to replace some of that equipment, we have no idea how long that might take,” said Wendland.

Wendland said ethanol vapors and natural gas aren’t likely to be the cause of the explosion. After crews inspected the site of the explosion, Onida Fire Chief Caleb Shepherd told Dakota News Now that the investigation is still ongoing.

For now, all Ringneck Energy employees can do is sit back and let the investigation continue. Wendland said operations won’t resume at all in the plant until the investigation is complete.

”They’re set up in the feeding center and doing their work. We’re kind of letting them work at their pace, so we’ll see. We need to hear back from our insurance company. They’re going to want to look at it too. Hopefully, that can happen quickly and we can start cleaning things up,” said Wendland.

In the meantime, the support has been reassuring.

”We’ve had so many calls from all the other ethanol plants and people that know Ringneck and all of our people. It’s just been overwhelming, the response. Anybody that could help said, ‘Just give us a call.’” said Wendland.

Chief Shepherd said at this time, there is no estimation as to how long the investigation into the cause of the explosion will take.