Yet another BP post: this time regarding its safety history

A friend who has read my last post regarding BP, sent me an interesting article about BP's Dismal Safety Record, and wondered whether I'd still claim BP has a reasonable safety policy.
Well, what can I tell you, my friends ?
I've read that article. as usual, it is very critical about BP, but when you ignore the harsh statements which claim "there is evidence BP has one of the worst safety track records of any major oil company operating in the United States", and get down to the facts mentioned in the article, you are left with 4 clear accusations:

  1. 'BP refineries in Ohio and Texas have accounted for 97 percent of the "egregious, willful" violations handed out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA statistics show BP ran up 760 "egregious, willful" safety violations, while Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips each had eight, Citgo had two and Exxon had one comparable citation.'

  2. 'After a 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Yet BP never fixed the problems in Texas City. Just last October, OSHA fined the company $87 million because it has failed to correct the safety problems at the rebuilt Texas City plant. That represented the largest fine in OSHA history.'

  3. 'In 2007, a BP pipeline spill poured 200,000 gallons of crude oil into the pristine Alaskan wilderness. In researching the environmental hazard, investigators discovered BP was aware of corrosion along the pipeline where the leak occurred but did not respond appropriately. The company was forced to pay $12 million more in criminal fines for the spill, in addition to another $4 million to the state of Alaska. '

  4. 'BP's infractions were more than environmental. The Justice Department required the company to pay approximately $353 million as part of an agreement to defer prosecution on charges that the company conspired to manipulate the propane gas market.' as 'BP traders were stockpiling propane, which forced the market prices to skyrocket.'

And well. What can I tell you. I felt embarrased. really embarresed. Not because I was proved wrong, naturally. For my ill-informed friend. Embarrased that he has chosen to quote an article that deals with damn serious accusations, phrased in high rhetoric tones, which crumbles apart under a very weak critical outlook. 

Lets start with the 4 accusations: only 3 of them are dealing with safety. That does not leave a good impression. One writes an article which is about to display BP's dismal safety past, and he can't even scrape up four different allegations, so he has to scrape an economic issue and try to sneak it as a safety issue ? ts...ts...ts....  don't get me wrong. I'm not saying economic misbehaviour is ok. far from it. but these are complicated matters, which will require a different time and place to deal with. What is clear is that if one throws in irrelevant data, to appear more based, he has problems with his basic stuff...

which brings us to accusations 1 and 3. lets start with the 3 - the leaking pipeline. This aspect of the oil and gas industry is complex. try reading about the pipes, a list of the accidents and reports of the accidents.  after readong those, you might have a different perspective regarding a company who owns and operates most of the  pipe-networking in Alasca, and which is responsible for many other systems of that magnitude, and still has only one event of that type in its recent history. Way to go BP !

Now for no. 1 - BP's refineries. Fact is Texas refinery had security issues which have taken lives in 2005 (I'll get back to it, when talking about item 2 on the 4 items list). But another fact is that the Texas refinery is one of the largest of its kind in the U.S, and one inspection can be resulted in hunderds of violations, and a great part of these would be violations which are not very severe (severe=life threatening conditions, or life-saving systems inoperable), and more related to technicalities (and we will get to a sample when item 2 will be discussed). As far as I could figure out, the 760 violations are a result of a very few inspections, a great part of them are under contention by BP. Still, one has to admit that competitors are able to operate refineries without carrying such heavy criticism. One reason may be that BP is indeed worse in its security policy. Another might suggest that there are regulation problems here, like the known story regarding Exxon's Baytwon refinery, the largest refinery in the U.S, which has reportedly undergone "expanded operations without notifying the U.S. federal government as required under the Clean Air Act's New Source Review provision. This went unnoticed by the Environmental Protection Agency until 2000". The expansion has taken place, according to this report, in 1989. Still, going over a list of refineries, one has to admit it would appear competitors operating larger facilities, have been able to keep safety issues under control. Refinery-wise, it would appear BP has a problem.
Which brings us to item #2: in 2009, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (a.k.a OSHA)
fined BP with the largest fine in OSHA's history - 87 million dollars, for not complying with the articles of a settlement agreement set between BP and OSHA, regarding the 2005 accident in the texas facility. You can read about the history of this sad matter on OSHA's website, here.
Surprisingly enough, bp anounced it asked a review of this decision, by osha's review commision.
bizzarley enough, I couldn't find any later news item, anouncement, or decision on this item on OSHA's website.
'lashed out at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for its $87 million fine against BP’s Texas City refinery, calling the federal government’s actions “one of the biggest affronts to the working men and women of this country. ... Doyle accused OSHA of “piling on” and said the fine was too severe. He said the agency’s actions and those earlier this year by the Texas attorney general in which the state threatened to sue BP for environmental violations related to the 2005 blasts are threats to the nation’s business climate. ... “One of these days, BP is going to say enough is enough and shut down and leave,” Doyle said. “Three or four years ago, I would have said that would never happen, but now I would say it’s a keen possibility. Sooner or later, it’s cheaper to shut down than keep the plant open.” ... Doyle said the federal government is not considering how important BP’s Texas City refinery is for the regional and national economy, noting that the refinery accounts for about 3 percent of the nation’s fuel supply.'



The same article mentioned that 'BP insists it has fixed most of the problems found by OSHA and other investigations and points to a $1 billion overhaul of the refinery, the adoption of the United Steelworkers Triangle of Prevention process safety program and new procedures as evidence the safety culture of the refinery is much improved.' and Quoted an OSHA's official, who 'acknowledged that improvements at the refinery have been made.' but who stated - “They did a lot of things on the settlement — unfortunately not the most important things”.
According to that article, 'OSHA did not outline how many of the fixes it required of BP in the 2005 settlement agreement had been accomplished and outlined only those areas the agency contend had not been achieved.' and that article, ended with the quote - “I worry we focus too much on one event, and we can’t see the forest through the trees,” Doyle said. “I bet you if you look at all the activity that has taken place at that plant since the explosion, they are being held to a standard that no one else has been.”

One can surely understand Doyle. He has to balance safety with economics, and one can't doubt the importance of a facility, such as a very large refinery, to the prosperity of a city. And yet, one would doubt the sanity of a person who lives near a refinery, and is not concerned about safety issues. I can already hear your thoughts regarding corruption, stupidity, and other ulterior motives which would account for Mayor Doyle's surprising support for BP's delinquent  refinery, but I would suggest doubting everyone involved in this situation and not just Doyle. After all, the Federal government had very good reasons to mark someone as a scapegoat, in order to prove's the Obama's administration new commitment to the safety of workers.... so it would take more facts, which are sadly scarce. 
Happily, I believe I was lucky enough to find in the irrelevant-or-similar-sea-of -overflowing-data of the internet, an interesting article by the Houston Chronicle, which had a huge advantage in credibility in my eyes, for a very simple fact - it was published at a time when it was known that OSHA was unpleased with BP's safety operations following their setllement, but it was still unknown what OSHA intended to do in the matter. the intersting bits in that article, in my mind, was a quote of a private expert asked to read the warnings issues by OSHA:
'Raymond Brandes, a private consultant and expert witness on refining safety, reviewed the letter and said it's difficult to draw many conclusions about the seriousness of the alleged violations. But he noted one example in which OSHA pointed out just two missing “thickness measurement locations” for pipes in a processing unit. He called that “superb performance” by BP.'
Before accepting BP's position, I would like to quote from that article that -
'The March 2005 explosion at the plant occurred after a piece of equipment called a blowdown drum overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons. The excess liquid and vapor hydrocarbons were vented from the drum and ignited at the startup of the isomerization unit — a device that boosts the octane in gasoline. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment did not work properly.'

and that the entire OSHA-BP controversy is 'reviving questions about safety at the plant where a blast killed 15 workers in 2005.'

This is the main issue about safety - the safety of people.

When someone talks to me about the dismal safety record of a corporation, I'm thinking about people. about the injured and dead people, who originally just came to work, and were hurt by events that could have been prevented by better safety-related actions,which  a more careful management could have taken.

Out of the 4 points outlined in the article this post is talking about, only one related to such article.
Meaning: in the last decade, BP is accused of two events in which workers have lost their lives at U.S territory. We are talking here about a highly complicated and risky industry, and you wasnt me to accept this as a proof of a problematic past ? two different, unrelated events, and one of these two - the gulf rig explosion is still under investigation ?

Do me a favour. If you wish to hate BP for failing in the gulf, do it. But lets stick to the facts.

[let me be clear here: I'm not relating to events taking place out of the U.S for one clear reason - such reference requires comparison with other corporations of the same business branch, and outside of the U.S, such data is problematic, at best. I'll let you search the data you can find on large oil corporations safety measures around the world. Brace yourself. This is not going to be the most pleasant reading material you will find. but as far as I was impressed, BP isn't different than its competitors, and in many aspects, it is as good as the others, or even better, in safety and environment-related issues around the globe, out of the U.S]

[update regarding item #2: OSHA has released a news statement, telling of an agreement, in which BP will pay 50 million U.S dollars in fine, and will invest 500 million U.S dollars in the safety of the Texas Refinery. BP confirmed the numbers, and added that this agreement resolves 270 out of 709 articles from the relevant inspection, and that it will hopefully make a platform for dealing with the rest of the articles. ]

 

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