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Financial Times: BP fought off Texas safety controls

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: March 4 2007 22:03 | Last updated: March 4 2007 22:03

BP successfully lobbied against tighter environmental controls by regulators in Texas, saving $150m in monitoring and equipment upgrades prior to the fatal refinery explosion in 2005, internal documents show.

The proposed controls would have forced BP to invest in upgrading the exhaust system on the unit that exploded to include a flare. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said the upgrade would have prevented – or at least mitigated – the blast that killed 15 and injured 500.

John Mogford, BP’s group vice president for exploration and production, who led the company’s internal investigation into the blast, said in his May 2005 report that a “conversion to a flare system would have reduced the severity of the incident’.’

A flare would have contained and safely burned off most, if not all, emissions, preventing them from catching a spark on March 23 2005, according to the CSB, which called the subsequent blast the worst US industrial accident in a decade.

Until the accident, BP was considered the “greenest’’ of the big oil companies and was able to convince regulators not to impose such tough controls.

Susan Moore, BP regulatory affairs manager, was nominated for a $1,000 bonus for her efforts.

“On behalf of BP, Susan Moore lobbied for and gained agency support to exempt Brazoria and Galveston Counties from new Highly Reactive Volatile Organic Compound (HRVOC) short-term and long-term emission caps,’’ wrote her superior, Watson Dupont, in a nominating e-mail. The Texas City refinery is in Galveston county, and, therefore benefited from the efforts.

In the December 20 2004 email, he noted: “We also delayed and maybe avoided $150m in additional costs by lobbying against the expansion of the definition of HRVOC. An expansion of the regulated chemical list would have doubled and, in some cases, tripled, monitoring costs, as well as potentially requiring new equipment standards for pumps and compressors at our sites.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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