- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

2:17 p.m.

HOUSTON — The federal government’s final report on the fatal 2005 explosion at BP PLC’s Texas City refinery, released today, criticizes a key U.S. worker-safety agency for lax oversight and repeats claims that organizational and safety deficiencies at the British energy company led to the blast.

The March 23, 2005, accident killed 15 persons and injured another 170, making it the nation’s worst industrial accident since 1990.

In a 335-page report, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) said that although the Texas City plant had had several fatal accidents during the previous 30 years, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had done only one process-safety-management inspection at the refinery — in 1998.

The report says that the agency made other, unplanned inspections after accidents, complaints or referrals — it didn’t say how many — but that those visits typically were narrower and shorter than planned inspections.

“OSHA’s national focus on inspecting facilities with high injury rates, while important, has resulted in reduced attention to preventing less frequent, but catastrophic, process safety incidents such as the one at Texas City,” the report says.

Richard Fairfax, OSHA’s enforcement director, told the Houston Chronicle this week that the agency “has gone to great effort to direct our resources to where we think we need to be.”

However, CSB clearly pointed a finger at BP for causing the explosion, noting in particular that “cost-cutting in the 1990s by Amoco and then BP left the Texas City refinery vulnerable to a catastrophe.”

BP acquired the refinery when it merged with Amoco in 1998. Soon after, the report says, BP ordered a 25 percent across-the-budget cut in fixed spending at its refineries. In a preliminary investigation of the accident released in October 2005, CSB said the Texas City plant fostered a culture of bad management and failed to recognize and correct problems.

“The combination of cost-cutting, production pressures and failure to invest caused a progressive deterioration of safety at the refinery,” CSB Chairwoman Carolyn W. Merritt said of the latest findings.

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