Safety Board Investigating BP Explosion Makes New Recommendations

Chemical Safety Board investigators want the petroleum industry to stop using equipment similar to a system used at the Texas City BP refinery that may have lead to a deadly 2005 explosion. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the latest recommendations would eliminate so-called "blow-down drums" from approximately 150 U.S. refineries.

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In the Texas City case, a blow-down drum overflowed during a unit start-up and sent a geyser of flammable liquid and vapors into the air, which led to the explosion that killed 15 workers and injured many more. The CSB recommendations call for refineries to instead use flare systems that burn-off excess chemicals safely. Lead investigator Don Holmstrom says there are 22 blow-down drums still in use at five BP refineries in the United States. He says it's unclear how many other refineries use the blow-down system, but wants OSHA and industry trade associations to lead the way in discouraging their use.

"Most oil refineries use a flare system, so we do not think the majority of oil refineries in the United States use blow-down systems, and in part, our recommendation to OSHA to conduct a national emphesis program on blow-down drums in part is to determine the extent of this problem."

Although the Chemical Safety Board has no regulatory power and simply provides recommendations, chairman Carolyn Merritt says it's clear through the Texas City case that blow-down drums aren't safe and could lead to more deadly incidents.

"There are regulations with regard to design and engineering of pressure relief systems so all those things taken into account I think OSHA has the tools it needs to be able to do an emphesis program and require the change of these systems."

Blow-down drums are no longer used at the Texas City refinery and the company's Ronnie Chappell says BP is removing the stacks from all of its refineries. He says all blow-down stacks will be gone by 2008.

"Back in May of 2005 we announced that we were going to be eliminating blow-down stacks in flammable service in our US refineries, in fact, in our refineries around the world. We are very-much in action on this issue."

In the meantime, the first civil trial in the Texas City explosion gets underway next week in Galveston. Eva Rowe lost both of her parents in the blast and has refused to settle with BP out of court. Her attorney is Brent Coon.

"She's very pleased that we have investigative agencies that appear to be taking a personal interest and have a lot of conviction in getting to the true root-causes and not letting the BP white-wash of their investigative report take issue."

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