On March 23, 2005, a series of explosions at BP’s Texas City, TX, refinery resulted in 15 fatalities and 170 injuries.
Disasters of that magnitude usually launch a series of changes, either in prevention, response or both. Example: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) underwent significant changes after the much criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.
In this case, the changes came in the form of prevention — or, at least that’s what officials hope.
One person weighing in is John Bresland, Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. CSB’s final report on the BP blast, issued three years ago, found:
- organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation
- cost-cutting that had affected safety programs and critical maintenance
- production pressures that resulted in costly mistakes made by workers likely fatigued by working long hours, and
- although problems were brought to the attention of BP’s board, there wasn’t sufficient action.
Bresland notes that BP has spent over $1 billion repairing and improving the Texas City plant. It’s also spent a similar amount on settling lawsuits with those injured and families of the deceased. He says it gives new meaning to the old adage, “If you think safety is expensive, wait until you have an accident.”
“When will we know whether the tragedy of 2005 has resulted in greater safety at BP and other companies’ refineries?” Bresland asked. “Only when we can look back over the passing of a significant number of years without major accidents, deaths, or injuries.”
In the Houston Chronicle, business columnist Loren Steffy writes, “BP can’t escape the ugly truth: Without the 15 deaths, the company wouldn’t have fixed what was wrong.”
BP’s troubles aren’t over, either. It faces $87.4 million in OSHA fines (the largest OSHA fine ever), on top of ones it has already paid. The agency says the company hasn’t lived up to all portions of the settlement agreement regarding the Texas City plant. BP is appealing that fine.
OSHA has also fined BP $3 million for problems at a plant in Ohio. Other oil companies have been penalized under OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on refineries, prompted by the Texas City explosion.
How do you put the safety problems that U.S. oil refineries face in perspective? “If the airline industry was having the same number of accidents as the refinery industry, I don’t think too many people would be flying,” Bresland said.
Do you think BP and other oil companies have learned a lesson? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments Box below.