A $13 million settlement with federal safety regulators resolves nearly all of the claims stemming from the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery, with one big exception -- a dispute over standards for vital pressure relief valves.
The agreement announced Thursday brings to $84 million the fines BP has paid in three settlements involving Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations related to the March 23, 2005, explosion. It killed 15 workers and injured scores more.
Of the 439 citations that OSHA issued against BP for failing to fix the problems it found in a 2009 follow-up investigation, only 22 remain.
All involve the appropriate specifications for the spring-loaded safety valves that are designed to relieve pressure during upsets at refinery units -- a subject of ongoing litigation before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA officials contend that BP in Texas City is not complying with generally accepted engineering practices. OSHA and BP are arguing a similar issue at a BP-Husky refinery in Ohio.
OSHA is concerned because improperly set valves can result in too much shaking, said Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. That vibration could cause the valves -which regulate the opening and closing of pressure vessels -- to break.
BP believes the valves "comply with industry standards and do not constitute a safety hazard," said spokesman Scott Dean.
BP has been trying to sell the refinery and has been eager to resolve outstanding citations.
The remaining issues notwithstanding, Barab said that OSHA no longer sees any imminent threats to safety at the refinery.
But the union that represents workers there said excessive vibration in pressure valves can have serious consequences.
"It's a big deal because if those valves fail to perform as designed, there is the potential you could blow up the vessel you are trying to protect," said Kim Nibarger, health and safety specialist for the United Steelworkers Union in Pittsburgh. "It's the last line of defense."
But changing the specifications would require a larger valve or a second valve as well as other alterations to retrofit the vessels, said Nibarger, adding that the issue has moved to the forefront as OSHA has increased emphasis on refinery safety.
It boils down to a cost issue, he said.
Don Holmstrom, the Chemical Safety Board supervisory investigator who led that agency's investigation of the Texas City accident, said pressure valves are critical.
In every refinery, equipment is rated based on a certain maximum allowable pressure. Dozens of vessels and distillation towers contain emergency pressure relief valves that open when the pressure reaches a certain point to keep the equipment from exceeding its maximum safe pressure.
"The pressure release systems are very important for the safety of a refinery," Holmstrom said.
Most Popular Stories
- SEO Traffic Lab Celebrate Wins at Digital Marketing Event 'Internet World 2013' in London
- Social Media Initiatives Should Follow Customers' Lead
- Apple CEO: Offshore Units Not a 'Tax Gimmick'
- U.S. Senate Accuses Apple of Large-scale Tax Avoidance
- UTEP Water Recycling Project Wins Venture Titles
- Marketo Makes a Mint in IPO: Stock Shoots Up More than 50 Percent
- Bieber Booed at Billboard Awards
- Crude Oil Up, Gasoline Down
- Austin Startup Compare Metrics Raises $3.5 Million for Expansion
- Why So Many Top 'Car Guys' Are Actually Women