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Daily Telegraph: BP ‘ignored safety risks over refinery disaster’

Lord Browne BP

(Lord Browne: facing demands to testify in a Texas court)

By Russell Hotten, Industry Editor Last Updated: 1:11am GMT 31/10/2006

An interim report into a fatal oil refinery explosion accuses BP of ignoring “catastrophic safety risks” and of knowing about “significant safety problems” at another 34 facilities around the world.
The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which publishes the damning findings today, believes that BP may have been aware for years of major problems at its Texas City refinery, which exploded in March last year killing 15 workers and injuring 180.

The report will add weight to demands by a US judge that Lord Browne, the BP chief executive, testify in a Texas court, as the company has denied knowing of critical safety concerns before the blast.

BP now accepts that there were failings at the Texas facility, and has set aside $1.6bn (£840m) to compensate victims of what was America’s worst industrial accident for a decade. While BP has settled with many families of victims, Eva Rowe, whose parents died, is determined to take BP to court to avoid aspects of the case being kept secret.

The CSB report praises BP’s co-operation with investigators and attempts to improve safety since the explosion, but this will be drowned out by the board’s stinging verdict on the way Texas City operated.

advertisementCommenting ahead of today’s publication of the report, Carolyn Merritt, the CSB chairman, said: “The CSB’s investigation shows that BP’s global management was aware of problems with maintenance, spending and infrastructure well before March 2005. BP did respond with a variety of measures aimed at improving safety. However, the focus of many of these initiatives was on improving procedural compliance and reducing occupational injury rates, while catastrophic safety risks remained.

“Unsafe and antiquated equipment designs were left in place, and unacceptable deficiencies in preventative maintenance were tolerated.”

In an earlier report the CSB, one of several US agencies investigating the blast, said Texas City had been using obsolete equipment already phased out in most refineries and chemical facilities.

The blast was caused when flammable vapours ignited. The CSB has found eight previous instances between 1994 and 2004 when flammable vapours could have caused a similar explosion.

The CSB cites a 2003 external BP audit of Texas City which said the infrastructure and assets were “poor”. And the CSB says that in a further BP report in 2004 the company found another 34 operations with “widespread tolerance of noncompliance with basic safety rules”.

Industry analysts have been concerned that during the years when oil prices were low, companies cut back on maintenance.

Ms Merritt appears to agree, saying: “BP implemented a 25pc cut on fixed costs from 1998 to 2000 that adversely impacted maintenance expenditure and infrastructure at the refinery.”

A BP spokesman said: “We agree with the CSB that the Texas City explosion was a preventable tragedy but we do not understand the basis of some of the comments from the CSB.”

He said the company would wait until the final report was published before commenting further.

Lord Browne has instigated a worldwide review of BP’s operations, not just because of Texas City. The company has suffered leakages at a facility in Alaska, and faces allegations of rigging the oil market.

Today’s preliminary findings are the first major update since a CSB report a year ago. The board is not expected to publish its final report before March next year.;jsessionid=YKEHFBXVWUK5ZQFIQMFCFF4AVCBQYIV0?xml=/money/2006/10/31/cnbp31.xml and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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