Refining, chem fatalities to face criminal charges

25 October 2007 22:26  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US refiners, chemical companies and their executives face criminal prosecution for hazardous substance emissions that end in fatalities or serious injuries, federal officials said on Thursday.

 

In announcing criminal and civil penalties and restitution charges totalling $373m (€261m) against energy giant BP earlier on Thursday, officials with the US Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that future refining or chemical fatal accidents also may trigger criminal charges.

 

The fines assessed against BP included a $50m criminal penalty for the March 2005 refinery explosion at Texas City, Texas, that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others. 

 

The department and EPA said that in pleading guilty to the criminal count BP “admitted that … several procedures required by the Clean Air Act for ensuring the mechanical integrity and a safe start-up had either not been established or were being ignored”.

 

The case against BP for the Texas City disaster is the first criminal prosecution under the Clean Air Act. The $50m fine also is the largest ever assessed under the act. 

 

As part of the settlement, BP will serve three years probation and has agreed “to provide cooperation to the government in its ongoing investigation of possible criminal violations related to the explosion” at Texas City, according to the settlement.

 

Justice Department officials said further criminal charges related to the Texas City explosion are possible.

 

EPA Assistant Administrator Granta Nakayama said the criminal charge against BP for the Texas City accident was warranted because of the loss of life and because BP as a global and widely experienced operator “has no excuse for what happened at Texas City”.

 

Nakayama noted that Congress enacted 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act specifically to help prevent accidents - such as the nearly 4,000 fatalities in the 1984 Bhopal, India, chemical release - that cause death or serious injury.

 

“It is critical that companies must have precautions in place to prevent fatal accidents in the release of hazardous substances,” Nakayama said.

 

That 1990 statute requires that chemical plants and refineries ensure that “release prevention, detection and correction requirements are followed” in order to prevent catastrophic accidents, he said.

 

Asked if EPA and the Justice Department would seek criminal charges against future US chemical or refining industry accidents resulting in fatalities, Nakayama said he did not want to speculate about a hypothetical case.

 

“However, I think industry should take a good look at this case,” he said.  “There is a clear warning on what could happen if they ignore steps that are necessary to ensure a safe workplace.”

 

($1 = €0.70)


By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653



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