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Posted: 10/15/2006 7:26:18 AM EST
HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Front page

Oct. 15, 2006, 11:02AM

Federal report says BP could have prevented costly 2005 fire
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

A BP fire last year that caused $30 million in property damage and fueled national concerns about the company's safety standards could have been prevented with easy testing methods, according to a federal report released today.

The US Chemical Safety Board announced a list of safety recommendations based on its investigation into a July 28 fire at the Texas City BP refinery last year, where just four months earlier an explosion had killed 15 workers and injured 170. No one died in the July fire. Although the incidents took place in different parts of the refinery, many, including CSB and union officials, afterwards questioned whether there might be systematic problems at the refinery and called on the company to work on safety.

The report released this morning, called a safety bulletin, directs its critiques at BP as well as JV Industrial Companies, a La Porte-based company contracted to do maintenance work on the unit where the fire occurred. It also makes some general manufacturing recommendations.

CSB found that JV Industrial Companies workers inadvertently switched two piping elbows made of different types of material in the refinery's resid hydrotreater unit, where hydrogen is used to lighten crude oil.

One pipe piece was made of alloy steel, which is resistant to high-temperature hydrogen, and the other was made from non-resistant carbon steal. The elbows looked alike.

After removing the parts for maintenance, workers refitted them in opposite spots, putting the non-resistant piping in constant contact with high-temperature hydrogen.

Within five months, the hydrogen wore away the piping and, around 6 p.m. on July 28, the elbow split and a fireball erupted in the unit. The resulting fire lasted for two hours and forced Texas City to issue a shelter-in-place alert.

JV Industrial Companies should have marked the piping pieces after removing them, the bulletin reports, but BP also failed to tell the contractor that the parts were made of different materials.

It is cheaper to use some carbon steel pipes if possible.

BP's Texas City refinery produces 3 percent of the nation's daily crude oil. Its March 23 blast is one of the most deadly to occur at a refinery.

The bulletin recommends that both the JV Industrial Companies and BP start testing items after they are removed for maintenance. There are hand-held portable devices call x-ray florescence instruments that can be used to distinguish between carbon and alloy steels.

"This would have identified the mistake in the reassembly of the identically appearing elbows before the unit was returned to service," said John Vonderbrueggen, who led this CSB investigation. "The accident would not have occurred."

The report also notes that piping could be constructed in a way that distinguishes parts made from different materials. A manufacturing change like this is more expensive but would prevent similar accidents, the investigators found.

The CSB is still investigating the deadly March explosion at BP, with a report expected out in 2007. The company is facing a potential criminal investigation as well as civil suits related to the deaths in that explosion.

The Occupation and Safety and Health Administration in September fined BP $21.3 million, citing the company for 300 violations related to the March blast.

A worker with JV Industrial Companies died while making safety improvements at the Texas City BP refinery in July.


HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Front page
This article is: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/4260430.html
Link Posted: 10/15/2006 7:36:40 AM EST
I work at a BP refinery here in Washington. About 400 feet from an ISOM unit. The same unit that exploded at Texas City.

Even tho they push safety....safety is really a matter of convienence.
Link Posted: 10/15/2006 7:44:06 AM EST
Years ago, I took a tour of the Ultramar/Diamond Shamrock(I don't what the actual company name is today) refinary in El Segundo(10 miles s. of Los Angeles), but they deal with lots of high pressures and temps; and can be a dangerous place if you're not careful. That refinary uses super-toxic hydroflouric acid in their refining process. All of the nearby refinaries have switch to a process using less toxic chemicals.
Link Posted: 10/30/2006 12:39:05 PM EST
HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Front page

Oct. 30, 2006, 12:32PM

BP documents show budget cuts a factor in deadly Texas City blast
Associated Press

HOUSTON — Internal documents show that budget cuts and a lack of leadership contributed to significant safety problems at BP PLC's Texas City plant, the site of last year's deadly explosion, federal investigators said today.

In preliminary findings, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said BP management knew about maintenance, spending and infrastructure problems well before March 2005 blast that killed 15 people and injured more than 170.

CSB Chairwoman Carolyn Merritt said BP did respond before the explosion with a variety of measures aimed at improving safety.

"However, the focus of many of these initiatives was on improving procedural compliance and reducing occupational injury rates, while catastrophic safety risks remained," she said. "Unsafe and antiquated equipment designs were left in place and unacceptable deficiencies in preventative maintenance were tolerated."

BP officials were surprised by the CSB's latest findings in its ongoing investigation.

"We don't understand the basis for some of the comments made by the CSB," BP spokesman Neil Chapman said. "We will await the final written report and hope it will include documentation explaining the basis of their statement."

Chapman said BP would not specifically comment on what concerns the company has with the CSB's latest findings. The CSB won't issue a final report until March at the earliest.

"We accept responsibility for the explosion and we regret the suffering it has caused," he said. "Those problems were many years in the making. We were working to address those problems prior to the incident."

Last December, BP's internal report blamed the blast on failures by management at the refinery, saying it didn't make safety a priority, tolerated risks and failed to communicate.

But BP added that it "found no evidence of anyone consciously or intentionally taking actions or decisions that put others at risk."

Chapman said capital and operating expenditures steadily increased over the last decade at the Texas City facility, particularly from 2001 to 2004.

"We engaged in many efforts to improve the safety culture," he said, adding that those efforts are continuing.

Since the explosion, Merritt said BP has expressed a strong desire to improve its safety performance globally, has cooperated fully with investigators and has shared its experiences with the rest of the refining industry.

But the CSB said that before the explosion, a 2003 external BP audit referred to the Texas City plant's infrastructure and assets as "poor" and found what called a "checkbook mentality."

Merritt said budget cuts of 25 percent from 1998 through 2000 caused a progressive deterioration of safety at the refinery.

The CSB also said the Texas City plant's training staff was reduced from 30 in 1997 to eight in 2004 and the training department budget was cut in half from 1998 to 2004.

The CSB's new findings come a day after CBS' "60 Minutes" reported that safety experts for BP warned their bosses of the potential for a "major site incident" 2 1/2 years before the blast.

The explosion occurred when part of the plant's isomerization unit, which boosts the level of octane in gasoline, overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons.

There was a geyser-like release of flammable liquid and vapor, which ignited as the unit was starting up. Alarms and gauges that should have warned of the overfilling equipment failed to work at the plant, located about 40 miles southeast of Houston.

In its initial report last October, the CSB, one of several government agencies investigating the blast, concluded the unit had a history of problems and was not hooked up to a flare system that burns off vapor and could have prevented or minimized the accident.

The report also found that BP fostered bad management at the plant.

The only civil lawsuit involving fatalities from the blast that has not been settled out of court is set to go to trial in November.

HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Front page
This article is: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/4297400.html
Link Posted: 10/30/2006 12:47:39 PM EST
It's only oil, let it burn!
Link Posted: 10/30/2006 1:04:32 PM EST
In other news, one of the refineries in Texas City had a HUGE flare stack flame going. I mean, it lit up the sky in Galveston. I thought the stack was on fire, but when I went over to the dike later that night, it was just a much bigger than normal flame that eventually died down to normal. It was weird
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