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chapter 9   

        

BP Texas City Explosion

 

 

Dismantling Amoco's  health and safety management system

 

        According to a 2007 government investigation, BP dismantled Amoco's centralized health and safety management system and replaced it with a system that varied from operation to operation, a shift that investigators later said "resulted in a loss of focus on process safety."

        In 2002, Don Parus, who had come up through the Amoco ranks, was transferred from BP's London headquarters to serve as a site director at the Texas City Refinery. One of the first things he did was hire an outside firm to do a safety audit. It found "serious concerns about the potential for a major site incident due to the large number of hydrocarbon releases (over 80 in the 2000-2001 [3] period)." It also found "mechanical integrity issues" and overdue inspections.

        The report recommended $235 million in upgrades to the plant, but it is unclear whether they were made. Safety audits in 2003 and 2004 noted similar problems.

        A year later, London again pressured Texas City to reduce its budget, saying the plant was eating up too much capital and not turning enough profit. In response, BP instituted the Texas City Refinery Repositioning Project. In an e-mail to BP staff about the project, Dennis Link, a manager at the plant, said the "key message" is that the refinery "is NOT delivering on profitability vs. % of capital investment. This is part of our 'sense of urgency.'"

        New managers who arrived at the refinery were often shocked by the state of the facility. In an interview with BP's internal investigators, one described a "big old run down and dirty refinery" where "people were desperate for hope." Another manager, who had left the plant in 1995 and returned 10 years later, told investigators she was "appalled by the general state of disrepair," according to an internal BP investigation.

        One new employee reported being laughed at when he suggested shutting down a unit after a three-quarter-inch fuel gas line blew out. "The mentality in refining is that the units are to continue running no matter what -- it's the cowboy mentality 'save the day,'" according to a 2006 BP investigation.

        By 2004, Texas City had become BP's most profitable refinery, raking in more than $900 million in earnings. But BP wanted more.

        At the close of the refinery's most successful year ever, London executives gave Parus, who had recently been named the site's business unit leader, a "budget challenge," asking him to slice $65 million from the plant's $300 million operating budget.

        Parus declined to comment for this story, but according to a deposition he gave in connection with the 2005 explosion, he pushed back. After several rounds of negotiations, BP reduced the cut to $48 million.

        By now, the years of neglect were catching up with Texas City, and Parus made that clear to BP executives Mike Hoffman and John Manzoni. In an emotional meeting in London, Parus showed them pictures of workers who had died at the plant and "portrayed to them that there was a huge cultural issue at TXC on safety," according to an internal BP investigation.

        Even as the plant's profits continued climbing, reaching nearly $100 million in January 2005 alone, Parus sent an e-mail to his staff saying that "2004 was not a positive year for Texas City Safety," citing three "avoidable" deaths and a major fire. He called for a two-day leadership meeting that "can, and must, be a turning point for the Safety Performance of this site."

        That same month, the Telos Group, an outside auditor that Parus had hired, produced what was probably the most damning internal report [4] ever to emerge from the Texas City refinery. After surveying more than 1,000 workers and interviewing hundreds, the auditors concluded that the plant's employees had an "exceptional degree of fear" of a catastrophe, and that "blindness" across the entire corporation prevented critical safety information from reaching the top levels of BP management. It also said that poor conditions at the plant created hazards "you would never encounter at Shell, Chevron, Exxon, etc."

        The 62-page report included direct quotes from some of the workers:

 

 

 

 

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