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Daily Telegraph: BP ‘deficiencies at all levels’ blamed for Texas explosion

Last Updated: 12:59am GMT 21/03/2007

Oil giant accused of failing to respond adequately to warning signs of a disaster, reports David Litterick

BP blatantly ignored problems at its Texas City refinery and instigated significant cost-cutting even though the plant was seriously in need of repair, the US Chemical Safety Board ruled. The CSB – investigating the explosion that killed 15 people, injured scores more and damaged homes up to three quarters of a mile away – described a litany of problems at the refinery.

Its 320-page report echoed the findings of BP’s Baker Report which placed the blame for the disaster largely on cost-cutting and poor management. “The Texas City disaster was caused by organisational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP corporation,” the report concludes.

“Warning signs of a disaster were present for several years but company officials did not intervene effectively to prevent it.” Equipment was not replaced, “even though a series of incidents warned that this was unsafe”. The explosion happened when a tower that splits different hydrocarbons in oil was overfilled. The excess pressure resulted in flammable liquids escaping from the stack which then caught fire, causing an explosion.

In its key findings, the CSB noted that: “Cost-cutting and budget pressures from BP Group executive managers impaired process safety management performance at Texas City.” The deficiencies went right to the top of the company, according to the findings. “The BP Board of Directors did not provide effective oversight of BP’s safety culture and major accident prevention programmes,” the CSB said.

Meanwhile, managers had a “check the box” mentality “where personnel completed paperwork and checked off on safety policy and procedural requirements even when these requirements had not been met”. That meant that “personnel were not encouraged to report safety problems” while “the lessons from incidents were not captured or acted upon”.

One of the main problems, the CSB found, was that BP had cut staffing budgets to such an extent that operations were undermanned. On the day of the incident, one of the key operators “was likely fatigued” having worked 12- hour shifts for 29 consecutive days and sleeping less than six hours a night, thus accumulating a “sleep debt of 43.5 hours” in the month leading up to the accident.

Three other operators had worked 12-hour shifts for 31, 33 and 37 consecutive days. In addition, workers were not sufficiently trained, the CSB said.

As for equipment, even when a new manager observed that the Texas City infrastructure was “in complete decline” and ordered a study to be done, the recommendations that the plant receive a “major overhaul” were not carried out.

The company even increased bonuses for some staff despite three fatal accidents in 2004. “BP Group and Texas City managers received numerous warning signals about a possible major catastrophe at Texas City.

“In particular, managers received warnings about serious deficiencies regarding the mechanical integrity of ageing equipment, process safety and the negative impact of budget cuts and production pressures.” In the end, “budget cuts impaired training, operations staffing levels, and mechanical integrity.”

The report


• Senior BP executives failed to instil a culture of safety at the company.

• The BP board did not provide enough oversight of safety culture and accident prevention programmes.

• Budget cuts meant there were not enough resources to prevent major accidents.

• BP’s managers at the refinery did not ensure that up-to-date procedures and policies were followed.


• BP appoint an additional non-executive director with expertise in refinery operations/process safety.

• Encourage staff to report incidents without fear of retribution.

• Ensure prompt correction of problems based on incident reports and recommendations

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