Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Reader Comment: The Real Story At BP

It’s rare that I get criticized for coming down too soft on a company that killed 15 workers….and even rarer that the criticism is justified.

This was a comment left by “Savage” on my post More Safety Dilemmas For Refineries As Profits Rise As I occasionally do with particularly good comments (especially those who say nice things about me, even if they're critical), I’m promoting this to the front page:
I suppose it's bad form to quibble with one of your heroes, but quibble I must. First, allow a small indulgence to the quibbler to establish a few relevant facts:

1. I work for an oil company in east coast refinery.

2. I hold an elected position in my Local.

3. I truly consider Jordan to be a hero and believe that he has done the work of angels his entire career and continuing with his efforts on this site.

On to the quibbles:
But after last week's record fine against BP Amoco for an explosion that killed 15 workers, the cost of these incidents can't even escape the Journal's notice:

Last week, BP PLC agreed to pay workplace-safety regulators $21.4 million in fines for safety violations tied to a deadly March 23 explosion at an octane-boosting processing unit at its Texas City, Texas, plant.
Savage Says: Refineries are running max plus throughputs right now. $21.4 million may be a record fine, and sure, it sounds like a lot of money to us.... but -- you just knew there was a but here, didn't you? -- refineries are making that much a WEEK right now. Kill fifteen workers and balance the books in a week? Not much of a disincentive there.

BP Texas City, however, seems to have learned its lesson:

Officials with BP said Tuesday that the refinery would take advantage of a total refinery shutdown prompted by the Hurricane Rita evacuation to make some needed repairs and retooling of units within the facility. In all, BP’s Texas City refinery has 29 units, five of which were already down following a series of incidents including the March 23 blasts that killed 15 people and injured more than 170.
Learned its lesson? Methinks not. Read it again...
Officials with BP said Tuesday that the refinery would take advantage of a total refinery shutdown prompted by the Hurricane Rita evacuation...
Think BP (or any other oil company) would choose to shut down a refinery while margins are this high without the Rita evacuation? No fucking way. The day one of these corporate monsters does that, I'll give 'em credit. Not one minute before. They were FORCED to shut down because of Rita -- let's not give them good PR until they EARN it.

As to the question in title of your post -- Choices, Choices For Petroleum Refiners: More Profit Or More Safety?

The answer is MORE PROFIT. Every. Single. Time.

One last thing:

A friend and co-worker of mine was horribly burnt in an explosion about five years ago. He will never work again. His unit's planned maintenance turn-around was postponed several times in the months prior to the incident. Why? Margins were too high to shut it down. This mentality will NEVER change.
OK, Savage. Good points.

But I have one quibble with you too. You state that the OSHA fine was $21 million, but that "refineries are making that much a WEEK right now."

Not quite. According to the Wall St. Journal (subscription only) BP’s 2nd quarter 2005 net income was $5.59 billion. Doing the math, that comes to about $2.2 million per hour, which means it would take BP only about ten hours to pay off the largest fine in OSHA’s history.

As you say, not much of a disincentive there.