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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Four-Year Long Investigation Reveals Forty Safety Issues

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An April 2, 2010 explosion at the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes, WA was the deadliest refinery incident in the U.S. since a 2005 explosion killed 15 people and injured 180 at a BP refinery in Texas.  The blast occurred while maintenance work was being performed

Investigators found that the blast occurred when a 30-foot- long cylinder known as a heat exchanger ruptured as workers were putting a parallel bank of heat exchangers back into service after cleaning. The vapors ignited, causing an explosion and an intense fire that burned for more than three hours.  After an initial investigation, Tesoro was fined $2.39 million by Washington regulators, the largest penalty for workplace safety violations in the history of the state.  Four years later, federal chemical safety investigators are recommending tougher state and federal oil refinery oversight.

The Chemical Safety Board cited a combination of hard-to-detect problems, failure to use safe equipment, poor inspection procedures, weak self-policing, and poor regulatory oversight led to the refinery blast.  The 4-year long investigation found that over time, high-temperature hydrogen in the pressurized heat exchangers used to purify crude oil at the plant had caused tiny cracks in the steel pipes.  The morning of the explosion, one of those cracks ripped open.

The report states that both Tesoro and Shell Oil Co., which formerly owned the refinery, “had many opportunities to prevent the damage” caused to the equipment long before it failed in April 2010.  The board also pointed out that in 2003 the American Petroleum Institute recommended heat exchangers be made of stronger material to reduce the risk of accidents, but no regulations required Tesoro to do so.  The investigators put together a list of 40 problems that led to the explosion and a list of recommended fixes, including industry-wide changes to prevent future accidents.  Tesoro is currently appealing the findings.

Oil refineries and the petrochemical industry know better, but far too many operate on the cheap. There has been a need to overhaul equipment for decades, but nothing is ever done.  And, why did it take four years to complete this investigation? Unfortunately, the Anacortes refinery failure is not an isolated incident.

Let’s hope that the recommendations made by the Chemical Safety Board don’t go unnoticed.  Let’s hope that Tesoro and other refinery companies take a long, hard look at their safety standards then take bold steps to overhaul those standards.  It is time to implement proactive safety systems at refineries to prevent future accidents.

Mark Bello has thirty-six years experience as a trial lawyer and fourteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice, Public Citizen, the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.