OSHA fines for BP Texas City are just fine!

Texas City’s mayor, Matt Doyle, recently lashed out at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for its $87 million fine against BP’s Texas City refinery, as quoted in the Gaveston County Daily News on November 1, 2009, he called the federal government’s actions “one of the biggest affronts to the working men and women of this country.” It is important to remember to keep the big picture is mind when talking about this situation. In 2005, an explosion at the plant resulted in the deaths of 15 workers.

According to the investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Board, actions taken or not taken led to overfilling the raffinate splitter with liquid, overheating of the liquid and the subsequent overpressurisation and pressure relief. Hydrocarbon flow to the blow down drum and stack overwhelmed it, resulting in liquids carrying over out of the top of the stack, flowing down the stack, accumulating on the ground, causing a vapor cloud, which was ignited by an unattended white pickup truck (owned by a contractor) with the ignition on. The report identified numerous failings in equipment, risk management, staff management, working culture at the site, maintenance and inspection and general health and safety assessments. The board went on to say that BP had failed to implement appropriate safety recommendations that had been made as early in 1991. Including eliminating the blow-down systems that vented to the atmosphere, as they represented a dangerous condition. But alas, BP didn’t include funding for this in the budget then, or at any point in the subsequent 14 years.

It is also important to note that the Texas City refinery has two other major incidents in 2005 after the March 23 explosion. On July 28, 2005, a hydrogen gas heat exchanger pipe on the Resid Hydrotreater Unit ruptured, causing a release of hydrogen that erupted into a large fireball. One person received minor injuries. On August 10, 2005, a Gas-Oil Hydrotreater incident resulted in a community order to shelter. This incident occurred when a hole developed in the bottom of a valve that handles high pressure gas and oil. In 2008 BP officials indicated that a chemical explosion may have been involved in the over- pressure event leading to the death of the employee.

Mr. Doyle went on to say “I think the (Obama) administration would have a lot more thought process of how important these refineries are to our country,” Doyle said. “These kinds of fines say we don’t want you here anymore.” Unfortunately the ignorance of Doyle’s statements are not only inflammatory but they are disingenuous, BP reported a $19 Billion profit in 2005. The fines don’t say to business, get out, rather they say operate in a safe and responsible manner and treat employees and surrounding communities with respect. Throwing safety concerns to the curb is not only reckless but illustrates Mr. Doyle’s lack of regard for human life.

In the Galveston Daily News article, Doyle said the federal government is not considering how important BP’s Texas City refinery is for the regional and national economy (BP reported a third quarter 2009 profit of $4.67 billion). I would disagree.  Contrary to Doyle’s point of view, I would argue that OSHA is taking in account exactly how important the lives of the people of Texas City are, in direct opposition to viewing them as commodities that are consumable in nature, quickly able to be replaced with new workers if and when deaths and injuries occur. BP isn’t a struggling company in need of special considerations or financial support from the taxpayers or OSHA!

The citations were issued from OSHA for a lack of compliance with safety regulations and lack of compliance with previously agreed-upon improvements at its Texas City refinery after the March 23, 2005, explosions that killed 15 people. In other words 4 1/2 years after the accident and over 14 years after recommendations had been made to enhance safety at the plant, BP still hadn’t done what they agreed to do in terms of correcting the safety hazards that led to the deaths of 15 people. Additionally, OSHA said it found hundreds of NEW safety violations at the nation’s third-largest refinery.

The new violations weren’t simple oops we didn’t know, or oops we forgot to take care of that…these were willfull violations. A willful violation exists when an employer has knowledge of a violation and demonstrates an intentional disregard for the requirements. It is mind-boggling to hear the mayor characterize OSHA’s actions as ““one of the biggest affronts to the working men and women of this country.” Mr. Doyle’s balant disregard for the safety of these working men and women is where the true affront lies! The notion that you can’t operate a facility safely and profitability is an insult to working men and women everywhere. Many large and small companies alike are proving that this can be done quite successfully everyday.

A commitment to a safety is a commitment to success. According to the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, for every $1 invested in safety, there is between a $3 and $6 savings. In a National Safety Council sponsored article in Business Week in 2005 Senior VP Ed Galante of Texas-based ExxonMobil said “Safety performance is a critical leading indicator of the overall quality and competence of an organization,” ExxonMobil’s safety focus has made it the global oil & gas industry leader in most measures of worker safety. Galante was further quoted “It has been our experience that a disciplined approach to improving safety performance benefits all aspects of our operations. Our focus on safety has also helped us achieve lower costs, better reliability and higher plant utilization, all contributing to the bottom line.”

According to ExxonMobil’s website, their Baytown,Texas Refinery, Baytown Chemical Plant, Baytown Olefins Plant received the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) Merit Award received by BTRF and BTCP for achieving a Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) of less than 1.0 with no employee or contractor fatalities. NPRA also awarded the Baytown Refinery the Award for Safety Achievement for Hours for recording 1,926,607 employee hours without a lost workday. Additionally the National Safety Council recognized Baytown Refinery for achieving a lost workday incident rate less than 50 percent of the Bureau of Labor Statistics rating for North American Industry Classification System.

Also ExxonMobil’s Beaumont refinery and chemical plant received the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Super Star among Stars and the Star among Stars awards respectively. Both facilities were also awarded NPRA’s Meritorious Safety Performance and Safety Achievement awards.

I don’t list ExxonMobil’s successes to be a shill for ExxonMobil, but rather to contrast their committment and track record of success with safety to that of BP’s. Both of these giants report huge profits, BP profits had jumped by 39 percent to $25.6 billion in 2008 according to a CNN report. Exxon Mobil Corp. reported a profit of $45.2 billion for 2008, breaking its own record for a U.S. company. Perhaps if BP invested more in safety they would be able to surpass ExxonMobil as being the most profitable company!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: