Saturday, April 02, 2005

Refinery Explosion

A March 23 explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, TX killed 15 people, and injured about 70. It drove up the price of gasoline. So this tragedy raises the questions what could have prevented this event? and what was the role of OSHA? The standard which governs this situation is Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals. This rule is a legacy of Bhopal, implemented through Clean Air Act legislation which compelled OSHA to promulgate this rule.

Chemical process safety is best explained in an appendix to be found at

This rule was written by OSHA to have the minimum impact legally permissible given the authorizing legislation by excluding as many processes as possible, notably reactive chemicals and fuel tanks. BrooklynDodger will write more on this when the Dodger gets around to it.

What about the facility itself?

OSHA’s website publishes inspection data.

For reasons governed by the computer system, the Bp facility is invisible when searched under its name, but comes up in a search for SIC 2911. The facility was inspected based on a “referral” starting in March 2004. OSHA issued 14 serious citations for violations of the Process Safety Management standard (29 CFR 1910.119). This standard requires management to analyze processes for hazards which could cause explosions. Citations were issued in August 2004, with proposed penalties of $63,000. BP contested the citations. On a date unspecified, OSHA dropped 9 of the citations, and reduced the proposed penalty to $13,000. According to the OSHA website, this case remains open. The facility was again inspected following an accident, starting September 2, 2004. According to press reports, a pipe burst, killing two and injuring one. On February 25, 2005, OSHA issued one willful violation for lockout, with a fine of 70,000, and 7 serious violations totally 39500, for a total proposed penalty of $109,500. One of the serious citations was for process safety management violations. OSHA’s website says all penalties were contested March 21, 2005; some of these violations were claimed to be abated in March, 4 months after the incident. Press reports mentioned a death from a fall in May, 2004. No inspection appears in OSHA’s records related to that.

BP: Texas Plant 'Safe,' Death Toll at 15

March 24, 2005 2:31:00 PM ET TEXAS CITY, Texas (Reuters) -

BP Chief Executive John Browne said the company's Texas City, Texas, refinery ``a very safe plant'' on Thursday as the death toll in Wednesday's explosion there climbed to 15. It was the third fatal accident at the mammoth plant in the 12 months. A worker died in a fall last May, and two were killed and one injured in September when scalding hot water burst from a pipe.

A large explosion and fire also occurred last March 30, although no deaths or serious injuries were reported.

``It is a very safe plant,'' said Browne, who rushed to Texas following the blast. ``I think these events are unrelated, but there have been a few and we regret each one.'' …

In addition to the dead, 70 workers in the plant and 30 people in nearby areas were injured by the powerful explosion that shook buildings and broke windows several miles away.

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