Washington, DC, March 23, 2006 - On the first anniversary of the refinery explosion at BP Texas City that killed 15 people and injured 170 others, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is continuing to investigate many aspects of the disaster. The Board expects to issue its final report on the accident, including a determination of root causes and new safety recommendations, at a public meeting in Texas City in late 2006.
CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt said, "Not a day goes by that we do not think of the 15 people who died and the many more who must now live with their injuries and their grief. At the CSB, we have not moved on to other things; the accident one year ago remains a central focus of our daily work. This solemn anniversary reminds us all of the need to prevent such accidents from happening anywhere else through positive change. There is a heightened need for corporate responsibility, sound operating practices and equipment, and vigorous enforcement of good and needed regulations such as the Process Safety Management standard and the Risk Management Program rule." Those regulations, promulgated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the 1990s, require good safety and engineering practices at oil refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities that handle hazardous substances.
The accident occurred during the startup of the isomerization unit, when a distillation tower was overfilled, flooding a nearby blowdown drum with flammable liquid. The resulting geyser-like release from an atmospheric vent stack led to a series of explosions that killed and injured workers in nearby trailers. The CSB issued an extensive set of preliminary findings about the accident at a public meeting on October 28 in Texas City, including a detailed description of the physical causes of the release.
Chairman Merritt said, "We commend BP for committing to remove antiquated blowdown drums from all its U.S. refineries and for developing an improved siting policy for trailers. These measures will contribute to improved safety at the Texas City refinery and other locations, and I urge all oil and chemical companies to consider similar actions, if they have not already done so. Everywhere I go, I am encouraged to see that many companies are sincerely trying to learn from what happened."
The CSB investigative team has conducted over 350 witness interviews, collected tens of thousands of documents, and expended almost $2 million in the costliest and most complex investigation in the agency's eight-year history.
Recently, the CSB has retained an expert in human factors safety to assist in the investigation. On November 10, the CSB noted that some operators involved in the startup operation had been working long hours for more than 30 consecutive days, and that training resources had been reduced from 1998 to 2005 even as workload increased for the control board operator position. The CSB team has also been studying how widespread is the use of blowdown drums instead of flare systems for handling hydrocarbon releases at oil refineries.
On August 17, 2005, the Board called on BP to urgently convene an independent panel to examine safety practices and culture at its five North American refineries, including Texas City. BP named former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III to head the 11-member independent panel in October, and the panel has since conducted three public hearings at BP refinery locations.
Also in October 2005, the Board made an urgent recommendation to the American Petroleum Institute (API) to develop a new safety guidance document to help prevent the placement of occupied trailers close to hazardous process units. The API, a leading trade organization of U.S petroleum producers, develops safety practices that are widely followed in the industry.
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 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, contact Daniel Horowitz, CSB Director of Public Affairs, at (202) 261-7613 / (202) 441-6074 cell or Lindsey Heyl, Public Affairs Specialist, at (202) 261-3614 / (202) 725-2204 cell.