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Bresland remembers Texas City catastrophe

Author : Paul Gay

24 March 2010

US Chemical Safety Board chairman John Bresland has reminded industry of the Texas City tragedy and urged today’s oil refining operators to make sure there is never a repeat of such as disaster. Five years ago, on 24th March 2005, a series of explosions rocked the BP Texas City refinery during the restart of a hydrocarbon isomerisation unit.

BP Texas City refinery in 2005
BP Texas City refinery in 2005

“I urge everyone in the oil refining industry to take a moment and think about that tragic loss of life and the severity of so many injuries which continue to afflict workers five years later,” Bresland insisted. “Take time out to visit the BP investigation web page, review the key findings in the report, and ask ‘Is any of this happening at my facility?’ I also recommend the CSB Safety Video Anatomy of a Disaster.
“Today would be an appropriate time for company management to pause and personally pledge to do everything in their power to prevent this kind of catastrophic accident from happening 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,” he added.
Fifteen workers were killed and 170 others were injured. Many of the victims were working in or around work trailers located near an atmospheric vent stack. The explosions occurred when 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.

In the CSB’s final investigation report issued two years after the accident, CSB found organisational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation. It was the most comprehensive and detailed investigation the CSB had ever carried out. The investigation team turned up extensive evidence showing a catastrophe waiting to happen. Cost-cutting had affected safety programs and critical maintenance and production pressures resulted in costly mistakes made by workers likely fatigued by working long hours. Internal audits and safety studies brought problems to the attention of BP’s board in London but they were not sufficiently acted upon.
Refinery accidents at other companies continue to occur with dismaying frequency. These have also taken lives, disrupted communities, and threatened the nation’s flow of gasoline and other refined oil products. These accidents will only stop when every refinery has made the financial and human commitment to sound process safety management. 
BP notes it has spent over one billion dollars repairing and improving the Texas City refinery’s equipment and operations. Media reports indicate a like amount has gone to settle lawsuits filed after the accident. This gives new meaning to the old adage, “If you think safety is expensive, wait until you have an accident,” concluded Bresland.

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