USA CSB chairman John Bresland, on the 5th anniversary of the BP Texas City refinery explosions of 2005 March 27, urged “everyone in the oil refining industry to take a moment and think about that tragic loss of life and the severity of many injuries that continue to afflict workers.”
During a restart of a hydrocarbon isomerization unit, 15 workers were killed and 170 injured. Many of the victims were in or around work trailers near an atmospheric vent stack. A distillation tower flooded with hydrocarbons and was over- pressurized, causing a geyser-like release from the vent stack. The hydrocarbons found an ignition source and exploded.
The commemoration was “an appropriate time for managements to pause and personally pledge to do everything in their power to prevent this kind of catastrophic accident at their refineries. And in my view it would also be appropriate for BP to recommit to safety in a way that builds on the steps it has taken in the aftermath of the Texas City tragedy,” said Bresland.
CSB’s final investigation report two years after the disaster, found organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of BP Corporation. In the most comprehensive and detailed investigation by CSB, a team turned up extensive evidence of a catastrophe waiting to happen.
“Cost cutting had affected safety programs and critical maintenance; production pressures resulted in costly mistakes made by workers fatigued by long hours; internal audits and safety studies brought problems to the attention of BP’s board in London, but they were not sufficiently acted on. Yet the company was proud of its record on personnel safety.”
CSB has a BP investigation web page, with key findings, serving as warnings and lessons to employers around the world.
“Refinery incidents at other companies continue to occur with dismaying frequency. These have also taken lives, disrupted communities, and threatened the flow of gasoline and other oil products,” said Bresland.
BP notes it has spent over a billion dollars repairing and improving Texas City refinery equipment and operations. Media reports indicate a like amount has gone to settle lawsuits filed after the accident. “If you think safety is expensive, wait until you have an accident,” said Bresland.
“Has the tragedy of 2005 resulted in greater safety at BP and other refineries? We will know only when we look back over a significant number of years without major accidents, deaths, or injuries.
“In the meantime, only the highest commitment to running down the smallest of problems and upsets will assure the prevention of so-called low probability, high-consequence events like the tragedy that took many lives in Texas City five years ago.”