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BP accounted for 97% of the most flagrant safety violations reported by federal authorities at US refineries over the past three years -- a period during which the company had said it was seeking to improve its safety performance.
BP's safety record has come under close scrutiny since an explosion at a BP-operated well in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 men Apr. 20, causing the nation’s largest oil spill. That incident followed a March 2005 explosion at the UK-based supermajor's Texas City, Texas, refinery which killed 15 workers.
Inspections by the US Labor Department between June 2007 and February 2010 found 862 alleged safety violations at BP refineries in Texas City and Toledo, Ohio, according to documents obtained by the non-profit Center for Public Integrity.
BP operates five US refineries in Texas, Indiana, Ohio, California and Washington state. Last year it received a record $87 million fine for safety violations at its Texas City facility. BP said in October it would contest the fine.
The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a rating system that ranks the seriousness of safety violations.
The most serious incidents are classed as “egregious willful citations” and BP had 760 citations in this category between June 2007 and February 2010, compared to a single such violation for the rest of the industry.
"Willfull citations" are the next step down in terms of severity and OSHA applies the term to incidents in which it believes a company has shown an intentional disregard for employee health and safety. BP received 69 such citations while all other refiners received 22 during the period under consideration.
BP tops the list in part because of continuing problems at its Texas City refinery, which was taken off line for about a year as the company spent $1 billion to upgrade the plant’s safety.
No other refiner approached the number of OSHA citations that BP has run up since 2007.
Sunoco was cited for 127 alleged violations, but only eight of these were considered serious enough to be classed as "willful", the Center for Public Integrity said. ConocoPhillips was cited for 119 violations, of which only four were deemed willful. Citgo Petroleum was cited for 101 violations, including two willful violations, according to the Center.
BP was convicted of a felony violation of the Clean Air Act in the Texas City explosion. It was also found guilty of a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act after a pipeline leak in Alaska caused a 200,000 gallon onshore oil spill in 2006.
Refinery operations are inherently dangerous, as seen in April when a fire at a Tesoro plant in Anacortes on the US West Coast killed seven people. The cause of that fire is still under investigation, according to OSHA. And only last week a contract worker at BP’s Rotterdam refinery in the Netherlands was killed after being crushed by a piece of concrete.
BP's safety record came under fire last week when Chief Executive Tony Hayward appeared before a Congressional committee in Washington to testify on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (OD Jun.18,p1). Hayward was criticized in particular for failing to make good on a promise he made to focus on safety "like a laser" when he became chief executive in May 2007.
Bill Murray, Washington