Nearly three years after a massive explosion killed 15 people at BP's Texas City refinery, the oil giant continues to have more fatal accidents at U.S. refineries than any other major energy company, according to a newspaper analysis.
The Texas City plant remains the nation's deadliest refinery, with three deaths since the March 2005 disaster, despite a $1 billion cleanup and more than $20 million in fines, the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday.
The accidents have caught the attention of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, which investigates serious industrial accidents.
"We are clearly concerned by the frequency of deaths at this refinery," said William E. Wright, a member of the safety board. "The apparent rate of fatalities is now higher than it was prior to March 2005."
Two other workers died at BP PLC's refinery in Cherry Point, Wash., in
2005 and 2007.
By contrast, the nation's other 146 refiners together had nine deaths between 2005 and 2008.
BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said the company's $1 billion investment in safety and a steady stream of repair and upgrades have reduced injury rates in Texas City.
"While we are making progress at Texas City, these deaths are a reminder that we have more to do," he said.
Since March 2005, one man was crushed at the Texas City refinery in 2005, one was electrocuted in 2007, and another was killed in January when a heavy metal lid unexpectedly flew off a water vessel.
So far, federal inspectors have not blamed BP for the most recent deaths. Two investigations remain open, according to Rich Fairfax, director of enforcement for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
BP's Chappell said the men killed in 2006 and 2007 appeared to have made mistakes that contributed to their deaths.
Chemical safety board investigators returned to Texas City this year after the January death of William Joseph Gracia, a veteran BP supervisor. Both OSHA and the board continue to investigate why the lid, which had been bolted down, suddenly flew off.
"The rate of ongoing fatalities was a critical factor in our decision to investigate the accident that killed Mr. Gracia," said Wright, the safety board member.
At least 41 people have died at the plant in Texas City, about 40 miles southeast of Houston, since the mid-1970s, the newspaper reported.
The March 2005 explosion occurred after a piece of equipment called a blowdown drum overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons.
The excess liquid and vapor hydrocarbons then were vented from the drum and ignited when a device that boosts the octane level in gasoline started up. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment did not work properly.
More than 170 people were injured in the blast.
The safety board's final report cited "organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of BP" and said cost-cutting left the plant vulnerable to catastrophe.
The Associated Press
February 24, 2008