The United Steelworkers (USW) union recently released a report of findings from the study it conducted after the March 2005 BP PLC refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas. The USW report surveyed 51 refineries that represent 49 percent of the U.S. refining capacity on the state of their process safety.

According to the report, refineries across the
U.S. fail to meet six main conditions:

• Highly hazardous conditions similar to those found at the BP refinery in
Texas City are in other U.S. refineries.
• There is great potential for future disasters.
• The industry's response since the
Texas City incident has been slow.
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) process safety standard passed in 1992 remains unfulfilled.
• Inadequate staffing and poor work organization contribute to the risk of major accidents.
• Refineries are not prepared for emergencies.

The report also highlights four key issues classified as "highly hazardous conditions" found at BP's
Texas City refinery:

• Use of atmospheric vents on process units. Their use releases untreated flammable, explosive and toxic liquids and gases directly to the atmosphere.
• Failed management of instrumentation and alarm systems. Inadequate management led to the malfunction of process indicators and alarms, causing operators to receive incorrect information.
• Trailers near process facilities. Trailer occupants are exposed to fires, explosions and the release of toxic materials without protection at such a close range.
• Allowing nonessential personnel into vulnerable areas during start-ups and shutdowns.

According to the report, BP is working with the USW on a safety initiative. Some details from the preliminary plans include creating safety teams and upgrading safety education programs, the report states. Industrial Info is already tracking 19 BP projects scheduled to kick off in 2008. These projects, representing a total investment value of $3.6 billion, include unit additions, revamps, turnarounds, upgrades and replacements at the company's refineries across the country. One of the company's major turnarounds is planned for its
Texas City refinery in October 2008.

One of the main concerns that the USW cites in its study is the uncontrolled atmospheric release of hazardous materials, including hydrocarbons from fluid catalytic cracker units (FCCU). Many of BP's turnaround plans include work in its refineries' FCCU areas, and several are expected to occur at the company's Whiting refinery (Whiting,
Ind.).

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