BP, reeling from Gulf oil spill, socked with worker-safety fines in Washington state


The same oil company whose offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico caused America’s largest oil spill in decades also was fined $69,200 this week by Washington regulators for serious safety violations at its refinery near Bellingham.

The state imposed the fine on BP — which has sought to win public favor with its green-tinged “Beyond Petroleum” advertising campagn — for violations at its Cherry Point refinery.

Workers could have been killed or injured as a result of the 13 “serious safety violations”  inspectors uncovered, says Hector Castro, spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), which levied the fines. There are three levels of violations, with “serious” being the most severe.

Many of the safety issues spelled out in the 44-page violation report were first identified by BP but not corrected, Castro earlier told public radio reporter Austin Jenkins.

For example, a pressure safety valve “was venting in an area where employees could be exposed to flammable vapor. Their own recommendations from their own audits were it should be vented into a flare system so that it would be burned off. And what we found was that there’d been no action taken,” Castro told Jenkins.

BP spokesman Bill Kidd downplayed that characterization in an interview with the PostGlobe, saying the pressure-safety valve issue is “not so much an imminent hazard…There are not vapors venting on employees.” He said his company hasn’t had time to assess whether to appeal the fines, as decision that has to be made in a matter of days. Kidd said his company needs to work with L&I to understand some of the issues raised in the state’s citations.

“Our main focus is to work with them to understand what the gaps are,” Kidd said. He didn’t outright dispute the report (it’s “not that we disagree necessarily,” he said), but he calls safety the company’s top priority.

According to a state press release:

The inspection focused on the hydrocracker process unit, the refinery’s largest process unit, which refines low-grade oil into gasoline. Twelve of the violations involve regulations governing the management of highly hazardous chemicals, which are part of what is commonly referred to as the Process Safety Management Standard. One of the violations involves a failure to provide proper machine guarding.

The 12 process safety management problems included failure to routinely inspect or maintain safety control devices, such as pressure safety valves; inaccurate or outdated instrument diagrams; and failure to record whether identified safety hazards were corrected. One violation noted that there were 38 instances of safety recommendations for which there was no record they were ever implemented.

“The safety violations our inspectors uncovered at BP were problems similar to those we’ve uncovered in all of the refineries we have inspected in Washington,” said Michael Silverstein, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Petroleum refineries are inherently risky work environments, and following the safety regulations is the key to preventing explosions and other life-threatening events.”

BP Cherry Point separately has attracted criticism from environmentalists, as when the company  doubled its refinery dock capacity next to the state’s once largest and genetically unique herring beds. That prompted environmentalist Fred Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth,  to successfully sue in 2006 to require an oil-spill risk assessment. The Army Corps of Engineers has yet to release the study. Meanwhile, the company’s expanded dock already is in operation.

“If only BP spent as much money on environmental compliance as they did on PR, the world would be a safer and cleaner place. Now they only wish they were ‘Beyond Petroleum,’ but to me they have always been ‘Beyond Pathetic,'” Felleman said after hearing of the L&I fines this week.

~ by fredfelleman on May 7, 2010.

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