US panel links BP accidents in Texas, Alaska

16 May 2007 21:59  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The shortcomings that led to the fatal 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas were similar to the problems behind the company’s Alaska pipeline failure and oil spill last year, a US safety official said on Wednesday.

 

In testimony before a House subcommittee, Chemical Safety Board chairwoman Carolyn Merritt said she found striking similarities regarding safety and maintenance between the March 2006 pipeline failure at BP’s Prudhoe Bay, Alaska facility and the March 2005 explosion and fire at the company’s Texas City, Texas refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others.

 

“Virtually all of the root causes identified for the Prudhoe Bay incidents have strong echoes in Texas City,” Merritt told a subcommittee of the House committee on energy and commerce.  “These included the significant role of budget and production pressures in driving BP’s decision-making, ultimately harming safety,” she said.

 

The Chemical Safety Board did not investigate the Prudhoe Bay pipeline failure and oil spill, but Merritt said she reviewed at the House panel’s request a BP audit of the Alaska incident conducted by outside firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

 

She said the Prudhoe Bay investigation and her board’s investigation of the Texas City refinery explosion found deficiencies in how BP managed the safety of process changes.

 

At Prudhoe Bay, she said, there was “a normalisation of deviance where risk levels gradually crept up due to evolving operating conditions”.  This was comparable with Texas City, she said, where “abnormal start-ups were not investigated and became routine, while critical equipment was allowed to decay”.

 

BP said the pipeline failure at Prudhoe Bay was due to unexpectedly severe corrosion of the line.

 

The House panel is examining whether recent regulatory changes and BP management reforms will prevent future failures.


By: Joe Kamalick
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