Panel blames BP in Texas City blast - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

01/18/07 - Houston, Texas

Panel blames BP in Texas City blast

At a news conference Tuesday in Houston, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III announces the results of an investigation by an 11-member panel he led of safety at BP's U.S. refineries. At a news conference Tuesday in Houston, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III announces the results of an investigation by an 11-member panel he led of safety at BP's U.S. refineries.

An independent panel left little question Tuesday about BP's poor safety oversight, its deficient leadership and short-term focus at its U.S. refineries -- critical indictments for a company still reeling from the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people and injured more than 100 others.

What remained largely unanswered is exactly how the British company would fill a void in the safety culture at all five of its U.S. refineries, or how long it would take to fix.

"Culture is forever," said former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington, one of 11 members of a panel led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III. "To change hearts and minds and ... the attitudes individuals have toward their jobs is a difficult and a human task, and it's never complete."

The 300-plus page report said the company emphasized personal safety over what it calls "process safety," or containing potential hazards such as explosions.

The report set out to provide BP with recommendations to improve the company's corporate safety oversight and culture. It recommended that an independent monitor report to the company's directors for five years.

On a video link from London, BP Chief Executive John Browne said the company will implement the panel's recommendations, which the company received Sunday and which Browne labeled a "hard-hitting and critical analysis that focused on deficiencies and negatives."

Browne defended the company's overall safety record but said its oversight of the kind of safety measures that prevent major accidents "wasn't excellent enough."

"BP gets it, and I get it, too," he said.

Baker and Gorton both said the panel found no evidence that BP ever withheld resources for safety practices.

Browne denied charges the company has placed profits above safety and said the company had never forgone spending on safety resources when necessary. However, some BP workers told panel members that safety wasn't a spending priority and recommendations for repairs were often met with resistance.

BP said Tuesday it plans to increase spending on improvements at its U.S. refineries from $1.2 billion in 2005 to an average of $1.7 billion a year from 2007 to 2010. BP's net profit for 2005 amounted to $22.34 billion, up 31 percent from the prior year.

The 2005 explosion has so far cost the company about $2 billion in compensation payouts, repairs and lost profits. BP has settled hundreds of lawsuits related to the accident, putting aside $1.6 billion just to resolve legal disputes.

BP EXPLOSION

March 23, 2005: Explosion at the Texas City plant kills 15 people and injures more than 170 in the worst accident in the nation's gas and chemical industry in nearly 15 years.

May 17: Company executives, in an interim report, say errors by workers and supervisors led to the explosion and fire.

June 28: Federal investigators say key pieces of instrumentation and alarms at the refinery weren't working properly. Don Holmstrom, with the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, said an alarm in the isomerization unit didn't work properly until after the explosions had begun.

Aug. 17: The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issues an urgent safety recommendation for the first time in its history, requesting that BP form an independent panel of experts to review safety at the company's five North American refineries.

Sept. 22: BP Products North America is fined more than $21 million, a record for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Oct. 27: Federal investigators say the plant fostered a culture of poor management and a failed to recognize and correct problems. The isomerization unit, which makes a gasoline octane booster, should not have been started up because of a history of problems and malfunctions.

Nov. 23: The company releases an anonymous worker survey that shows Texas City BP workers felt the refinery's top priority was making money and that managers neglected safety in the months before the explosion. BP released the survey and an audit after attempting to prevent public disclosure of these and other documents.

Dec. 9: BP blames management system failures for the explosion. BP says will it invest about $1 billion over five years to improve and maintain the plant.

Oct. 31, 2006: An investigative board urges the petroleum industry and federal regulators to eliminate the type of atmospheric vent that caused the Texas City blast from all U.S. refineries.

Nov. 9: BP settles the last remaining death-related lawsuit from the explosion. Eva Rowe, 22, received an undisclosed amount in a settlement that also called for BP to continue to release documents related to the case and to donate millions to schools and medical facilities.

Jan. 16, 2007: An independent study by a panel led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III says BP failed to emphasize safety at its U.S. refineries before the Texas City explosion.

Story courtesy of the Associated Press.

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