Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Positive Reaction To Chem Board's BP Amoco Recommendation

The press in Texas and across the Atlantic are responding favorably last week's urgent recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board that BP Amoco set up an independent panel to study the company’s safety culture and management safety systems.

The Houston Chronicle thought it was high time:
First came the horrific blast at BP's Texas City refinery that killed 15 and injured more than 170. That was in March. In July, fire broke out at another unit of the refinery. On Aug. 10, a high pressure valve sprang a leak, releasing 100 barrels of gas oil and 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide. The latter two incidents caused no injuries, but nearby residents were advised to shelter in place. Hours after the leak at the Texas City facility, an explosion occurred at BP's petrochemical plant near Alvin.

That series of accidents, following others that have plagued BP plants for years, demands a thorough, independent examination of BP's safety features and operations, followed by decisive action to correct deficiencies. Last week, that is what a federal agency recommended.


BP CEO John Brown promptly accepted the investigation board's recommendation and promised to implement any changes the independent reviewers identified. The safety of BP's employees and that of the many nearby residents and schoolchildren depends on it.
The Austin American Statesman points out that it’s not just lives at stake, but refining capacity as well:
The United States can ill afford to lose any refining capacity these days, given the tightness of petroleum supplies and rising prices. But it is more dangerous in the long run to let refineries operate until they blow up, killing and injuring dozens of workers as well as losing the productive capacity of the refineries themselves.

The board was right to act, and it should be ready to take the same quick action if similar problems develop with other refiners.
Meanwhile the CSB’s action has stirred up some attention across the pond where British Petroleum is headquartered, Jason Nissé at the London Independent says that BP Chair Lord John Browne has not been putting its money where its mouth is. Eight years ago, Browne “became the first head of a major polluter to admit that his company was harming the environment, and committed BP to doing something about it.” Between the accidents at US refineries, the loss of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling in environmentally sensitive areas in Asia and plans for the Alaska Nationa Wildlife Refuge, and opposing tougher controls on pollutants in the recently passed US energy bill, BP’s environmental and safety consciousness leave something to be desired
People should be judged by what they do, not what they say. And by that measure, BP's reputation is unravelling.

The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board accused it last week of "systemic lapses" in safety at its Texas City plant, where an explosion in March killed 15 people and injured 170. It called for a review of safety at all five of BP's US refineries.

Reports after the Texas City disaster appear to reveal a culture of poor controls - not only to do with safety but also in the environmental area that BP has staked out as its "unique selling point".
.And then there’s the London Sunday Herald:
IF you chose to drive an ageing car at breakneck speed on a critical journey, you would scarcely be surprised if you were involved in a nasty accident. There are parallels with the oil refining industry where ageing plants are working at 95% of capacity and struggling to keep pace with soaring demand. The refining industry has flirted with danger for too long, cutting costs and corners and failing to learn the lessons from accidents.

Last week, the US Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Bureau accused BP of “systemic” safety lapses following a series of incidents at its Texas City refinery, the most serious of which occurred in March, when an explosion killed 15 workers and injured a further 170. It was the most serious US industrial accident for 15 years and BP was ordered to form an independent panel to examine its safety culture. Also last week BP reported another accident in Texas City, the third since March. Across the US the picture is grim, with estimates of at least 20 refinery accidents and stoppages in the past month alone. They have not all involved loss of life, but they have reduced output at a time of runaway demand. Ageing infrastructure is a serious problem and the issue of fresh investment in refining capacity to maximise efficiency and address critical safety concerns must be tackled urgently.

There has not been a single new refinery built in the US since 1976 and none in Europe for a decade. That means too much creaky plant is struggling to operate at full throttle. There is worrying evidence of failure to invest in modern systems such as safety flares and failure to follow safety protocols. Blaming workers, as BP has done on more than one occasion where safety has been questioned, is an inadequate and reprehensible response from management.