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Mar 7, 2007

Board to Convene March 20 Public Meeting in Texas City, Texas, to Release and Vote upon Final Report on BP Refinery Disaster

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March 7, 2007 - The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced today that it will convene a public meeting on the evening of Tuesday, March 20, 2007, at the Nessler Center in Texas City, Texas, to release its final investigation report on the explosion at the nearby BP refinery that took 15 lives and injured 180 on March 23, 2005.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. central time at the Nessler Center's Wings of Heritage Room, 2010 5th Avenue North, Texas City, TX 77590, (409) 643-5990. The Nessler Center is adjacent to the Doyle Convention Center, near city hall.

The meeting is open to the public, and there is no fee or pre-registration required to attend. The CSB investigative team will present its final draft report on the tragic explosion and will answer questions from the CSB board members in the public forum. The Board will then ask for any public comments on the report before proceeding to an expected vote on whether to approve the report and safety recommendations.

The March 2005 accident occurred during the startup of the refinery's octane-boosting isomerization (ISOM) unit, when a distillation tower and attached blowdown drum were overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons. Because the blowdown drum vented directly to the atmosphere, there was a geyser-like release of highly flammable liquid and vapor onto the grounds of the refinery, causing a series of explosions and fires. Fatalities and injuries occurred in and around work trailers that were placed too near the ISOM unit and were not evacuated prior to the startup. It was the worst industrial accident in the United States since 1990.

The final report of the investigative team will detail the root causes of the accident, including technical, organizational, and human factors, and will include a number of new safety recommendations.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website, www.csb.gov.

For more information, members of the news media should contact Jennifer Jones at (202) 261-3603 or Hillary Cohen at (202) 261-3601.

A Chronology of the CSB Investigation

March 24, 2005 - CSB investigators arrive at the BP Texas City refinery

March 26, 2005 - The CSB team points out the hazard of placing trailers so close to operating refinery units

April 1, 2005 - CSB investigators make initial entry into the damaged ISOM unit and identify the atmospheric blowdown drum as the likely source of the release

April 28, 2005 - CSB investigators say diminished outflow from an ISOM unit distillation tower resulted in overpressurization and flooding and led to the flammable release during startup

June 28, 2005 - CSB lead investigator Don Holmstrom announces that a review of computer records shows that two alarms and a level transmitter, which could have warned operators of the flooded condition of ISOM unit equipment, failed to operate properly in the hours leading to the explosion

July 28, 2005 - The Texas City refinery experiences a serious hydrogen fire in the Resid Hydrotreater Unit that causes $30 million in property damage and forces residents to take shelter

August 10, 2005 - Another incident related to mechanical integrity in the refinery's Gas Oil Hydrotreater forces another community shelter-in-place alert

August 17, 2005 - The Chemical Safety Board issues its first-ever urgent safety recommendation, calling on BP to convene an independent panel to assess safety culture and oversight at all five of its North American refineries

October 24, 2005 - BP announces formation of the 11-member panel of experts, chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III

October 25, 2005 - The Chemical Safety Board issues new urgent safety recommendations calling on the American Petroleum Institute to develop new safety guidance for the placement of trailers away from hazardous process areas

October 27, 2005 - In preliminary findings released at a public meeting in Texas City, CSB investigators describe a history of abnormal startups in the ISOM unit, previous vapor releases, and mechanical failures; they refer to the unit's blowdown system as "outdated and unsafe"

November 10, 2005 - CSB Chairman Merritt testifies before the newly established Baker panel, notes the role of worker fatigue and operator downsizing in the accident

December 22, 2005 -The CSB releases a narrated computer animation of the events leading the accident; the video is viewed in refineries and chemical plants worldwide

June 30, 2006 - The CSB releases blast damage information for 44 trailers located near the ISOM unit; notes serious damage to a distance of almost 600 feet from the center of the explosions

October 15, 2006 - The CSB issues a safety bulletin based on the July 28, 2005, hydrogen fire, calling for expanded use of positive material verification to prevent accidental releases

October 30, 2006 - CSB Chairman Merritt releases new preliminary findings from the investigation, pointing to the role of organizational factors and cost-cutting in setting the stage for the accident

October 31, 2006 - The CSB issues new safety recommendations, calling on the U.S. oil industry to eliminate the use of unsafe blowdown drums similar to the one involved in the Texas City accident and calling on OSHA to establish a refinery special emphasis program to promote the replacement of the drums with safer alternatives

January 16, 2007 - The independent refinery safety panel chaired by Secretary Baker issues its final report at a news conference in Houston, revealing systemic safety problems in BP's North American refineries

 

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