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Accidents at Refineries are Raising Questions

Photo of Benny Agosto

With the latest fire and explosion connected to BP, the offshore rig off the coast of Louisiana that caused fatal and serious injuries to many workers last week, many family members, as well as federal investigators have become increasingly frustrated. An accident at Tesoro Corporation's Anacortes, Washington refinery on April 2, 2010 that killed five employees and critically burned two others has brought refinery accidents into focus again, just five years after fifteen workers were killed and more than one hundred injured in an explosion at BP's Texas City refinery. The accident at Tesoro's plant was the worst in the industry since the BP disaster. And now, only a few weeks after the Tesoro fire, BP is once again the target of the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Board investigators who are trying to figure out how and why BP's latest disaster caused so much death and devastation in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in the overall United States workforce, fewer workers are dying on the job--5,071 died in 2008 compared with 6,632 in 1994. However, the number of serious accidents and fatalities at refineries seems disproportionately high, federal officials say.
It's impossible to know for sure because the Labor statistics do not track refinery deaths or accidents by location or company. Part of the problem, some worker advocates say, is that there are few incentives for refineries to make work environments safer, and little in the way of consequences from the Occupational Safety & Hazard Administration when there's a serious accident.
Many are now calling for some thorough investigations and stiffer fines for rule violators. Safety specialists across the country claim that the problems leading to these explosions and continued deaths at refineries are as a result of problems that have become systematic in the industry. Simply put, placing production over safety.
The latest BP explosion seems to be more of the same problems that worker advocates have been warning against for quite some time now. (See my blogs on the subject since January 2010).

Here is a highlight of accidents that occurred at refineries in the past few years:

April 20, 2010 The Deep Horizon oil rig located 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana in Gulf Coast waters exploded unexpectedly, causing a destructive fire. At least eleven workers suffered fatal injury, while the numbered of injured workers remains unknown. As a result of the explosion, the Gulf of Mexico will suffer tremendous amounts of oil pollution, resulting in damage to the coasts of Louisiana, Texas Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida; as well as, seriously affecting other industry and recreational concerns.

April 2, 2010 Tesoro refinery explosion and fire in Anacortes, Washington killed five and injured two. The refinery had been fined recently for safety violations.

March 2, 2010 An explosion and fire at Dallas-based Holly Corp.'s refinery in New Mexico, which resulted in the death of two workers.

December 4, 2009 A boiler failed at San Antonio-based Valero Energy's Texas City plant, killing one worker.

March 10, 2009 Explosion at a Marathon Oil Corp. facility in Vacherie, Louisiana, killing one worker and injuring three.

November 6, 2005 Two workers were killed at a Valero oil refinery in Delaware City, Delaware, after succumbing to effects of inhalation of nitrogen fumes.

March 23, 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City killed fifteen people and injuring more than one hundred. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issued its final report in 2007, whereby it criticized the lack of OSHA oversight and cost cutting, as well as, the lack of safety procedures at BP.

*Information gathered from the Houston Chronicle.

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