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June 15th, 2010
01:00 PM ET

Accidents, fatalities a regular occurrence for 'big oil'

By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello, CNN

(CNN) – The fiery explosion that cost 11 workers their lives on the Deepwater Horizon has the nation focused on the dangers of deep water oil and gas drilling. But what about what happens on land? It turns out that the oil and gas industry’s track record isn’t very good there either.

Here are just a few of the accidents during the past two months:

April 2nd – An explosion at BP's Tesoro refinery in Washington State killed seven.
May 5th – Two were injured in an AGE refinery fire in San Antonio.
May 17th – Another fire broke out at LyondellBasell’s Houston refinery.

Add up all the U.S. refinery and rig fires since April 1 and you find 13 fires, 19 deaths and 25 injured.

Kim Nibarger, who directs the United Steel Workers Union’s safety group, was in Washington Thursday testifying before the Senate’s Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee about the dangers to workers at refineries. Nibarger has witnessed those dangers firsthand. 12 years ago, he saw a BP refinery explode in Anacortes, Washington. Six workers died.

“I live that nightmare in 1998 every day,” he told us. “I mean it hurts me. I know what the families go through. And it needs to come to a stop. People shouldn't have to die just because they went to work.”

Oil industry representatives insist that their industry is safe. We asked Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute if all of those fires over the past two months show that the oil and gas refiners have a real safety problem on their hands. Greco said, “We'd like to look at that data and see if there's a trend or something that can be addressed broadly–or if it's related to individual facilities.”

Safety experts have wanted the oil industry to do that for years. They say that refiners do have a pretty good safety record when it comes to accidents such as slips and falls on the job, but that’s not the case when they look at equipment and operational failures.

John Bresland, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), is concerned that the structural parts of some refineries are just not safe. “If I got on an airline,” he told CNN, “and they said, well, we've got a terrific safety record with our slips, trips, and falls, and our baggage handlers are really safe—but maybe we're not quite as safe on the process side, the running airline, I would have serious doubts about getting on that airline. I think the same analogy applies in the oil industry.”

Recently Bresland wrote about the continuing dangers facing workers at refineries. “Refinery accidents [at BP and] at other companies continue to occur with dismaying frequency.”

Jordan Barab is with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). On Thursday he also testified before the Senate subcommittee. “The status quo,” he told senators, “is not working.”

OSHA is the government agency responsible for protecting America's workers, and has used fines to try to rein in BP. After serious incidents at BP's facilities in Texas City and Toledo, Ohio, OSHA, according to the Center for Public Integrity, slapped BP with 862 citations between June 2007 and February 2010. OSHA told CNN it levied $87 million in fines on BP because it was slow to correct the violations.

But OSHA, the Steelworkers Union, and other safety experts caution that while BP might be the biggest offender - it isn't the only one. We asked Kim Nibarger what goes through his mind when he sees the number of refinery fires during the past two months.

“It looks like we're going to have another year just like last year–and the year before. It's a continuing problem.”

Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. john Evans

    Tesoro is NOT BP.

    June 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  2. lisaspups

    Zaben - Puh-LEASE!!! We have been hearing this belly aching from the oil and other energy industries for years - while they rake in billions of dollars in profits. BP touted all its advanced driling and safety technologies when they got permission to drill this rig. Unfortunately, like everything else the oil execs spew, it is a load of crap. Bottom line, we need to break our dependency on oil and other non-renewable resources, domestic or foreign. Yes, it is going to hurt - and badly - but the longer we wait, the harder it is going to be - as evidenced by the last 40 years of dragging our feet. I do not relish the high prices and sacrifices, but like my military father used to say, "Suck it up."

    I frankly feel the most empathy for those honest, hard working people in the industry already suffering because of the moratorium and the shift away from non-renewable resources. IMHO, the industry should be required to set up a fund to re-educate these individuals while paying them their full salary so they will have the tools to pursue other opportunities.

    June 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  3. yvrtogo

    BP doesn't own or operate the Anacortes refinery. Tesoro does. No relation

    June 16, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  4. Zaben

    OSHA is absolutely right. But let's look at the big picture. I have been in the oil business for 35 years. I have watched the environmental and safety arena grow from a mere buzz word to viable entities which safeguards our environment and employees. However, if you look at the oil industry specifically refining we have not built any new oil refining facilities in about 50 +/- .years . And this is due to our environmental laws and regulations. The expense and restrictions alone make it economically impractical to build new facilities. So we are left to process oils with equipment and processes that is – let's say – dilapidated.

    We can't drill onshore because of environmental restrictions. And even the environmental restrictions for off-shore drilling has put the oil industry looking for oil in areas that are extremly dangerous.

    I agree with protecting our enviroment and employees – but it is tough to do when your hands are tied behind your back.

    June 16, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  5. cg

    Oh !I found a spot to post this comment........
    I have watched this man all along when Obama was a candidate.
    CNN go back and see if you can find any recordings when this man had something positive to say about Obama.
    I cannot stand this man or the ground he walks on.

    June 16, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  6. dave rowlen

    if bp is not honest about the amount of oil comming out on this rig how do we know their telling the truth about the rest of their rigs? ie they say their getting 50 gal. and their actually getting 100. THATS A LOT OF CASH!

    June 16, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  7. ronvan

    JUST WONDERING: WHY is it that none of the other oil companies have tried to help BP? Is it because they want to see them go out of business so they will have a bigger share/profits from oil? OR is it because they have NO emergency plans either for a situation like this? WHY is it that I hear people yelling about getting the National Guard involved, yet the Governors of those states involved have not called them out? Is it because they do not have the money, or are they putting the blame on the President for political reasons? And do not tell me that the Guard could not help or that they would just be in the way. The more "boots on the ground" picking up oil the better! Yes you are going to have to gamble that BP will pay the bill but the longer you wait the more damage will be done, requiring even more effort. IF no one has the ability to have emergency plans to deal with a disaster like this then why should we allow any of them to drill offshore? OR is it that we are so addicted to oil that we are willing to "toss the dice" and gamble on a disaster not happening to get it?

    June 16, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  8. Mari

    We can't go back to day 1 of this disaster or even the day before the disaster even though most of us might like to in order to rectify the problem. However, the President last night said that there were 1,000 ships in the Gulf (I suppose they are there to do something about the problem). What are these 1,000 ships doing??? Tell us! Give us some hope that they are doing something to help and not just watching the mess unfold!!

    June 16, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  9. ma'at

    You know i have been watching Rachel , who by for one of my favorite news queen ,and as I listen to her on the Presidents speech on how she didn't her what she needed from the President ,I say Rachel just as you are mad as hell , I see in the President mad as equally well and yes, this is a world wide emergency and i sit her in front of my tv an shout out words that can not be said on tv , but where is that in a solution to stopping that u know (%#$%&%$ oil) from gushing out. In my mind he and any other President in this situation unlike any before is trying to deal with this and is trying to come up with the solution to fix (the Leak) .what would you tell the President to do to stop the leak? We need to rally around the President as the problem is trying to be fix.
    If the oil industry don't know how to stop it ,how do we expect the President to stop it ? . We can't blame him.Come on Rachel keep me proud of you

    June 15, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  10. MOJO

    For my entire life – I've vacationed on Florida's Gulf shores. While I've traveled many other places in the world – this was the place my family found solitude, laughter, etc. And, my ancestors passed their love of the shores of Florida's gulf coast down to the next generation. This has gone on now for six generations. That's just one family! Now – I'm beginning to believe that I will not live long enough to take another generation down to visit the places we once called our "home away from home."
    Who is to blame – well there's lots of that to go around. And, it ain't Bush. Blame is a game we can't afford to play at the moment. We need every available resource possible to stop the leak, clean it up and move quickly so perhaps in a couple of generations there will be more families like mine to make memories on the shores of the gulf ... until then – I suggest our President take every ounce of help being offered from around the world. We can't afford to say no!

    June 15, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  11. Don M


    I just finished listening to our President speak concerning the Deepwater Horizon / Gulf crisis. As a symbolic Oval Office speech, I unfortunately did not walk away with the level of "comfort and assurance" that was commonplace typically during a Reagan; Bush Sr. administration. Inexperience in crisis management was evident. Remember that 3AM phone call?

    While the catastrophic dimensions of the Gulf spill are currently far reaching and potentially decade(s) lasting, it also occurred to me how much this incident has exposed one of our Country’s Achilles heel. More specifically, I am sure the Taliban and Al-Qaeda enthusiastically observed what has happened over the last 54 days as well as listened to this speech. Combine tactics of 911 with the Gulf incident and you have a major catastrophe that would break this country’s back.

    June 15, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  12. shaun mills

    why does pride weigh so much on wallstreet....? admit and be embarassed employees therin and of BP should lye responsible for ignoring safety contengencies due to cost for profit....funny how ratios control our system is it the system or its goal that is the problem......throughout the chain of pass the buck uhnderstand whats at stake but last i checked bp should be scared of the bba then their costs at this point longevity demands full responsibility and employees of said company should file every grievence they can and we all should call our local congressman over this......especially knowing how Katrina was aloud to leave such a distain in the mouths of the american .....shaun in IN.

    June 15, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  13. SilverDuck

    Every boat, barage, craft, device on water, ship brought to the gulf, much be protected on shore in storms.

    June 15, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  14. Bill

    The accident 12 years ago was at a Texaco refinery, not BP as this article states.

    June 15, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  15. Vernon Rousselle

    Hi Carole my name is Vernon I have the solution how to stop the oil leak but it look's like nobody from CNN want's to listen to me .My story did pass on radio Canada on TV and the morning after on the radio both of them in the maritimes provinces.So this means that the peoples did believe in my story.I would like to share it with you,and would send you my print so that you could show the American peoples that there is a solution to fix this.Were loosing precious time,please give me a call day or night #506-725-2236,I'm waiting Vernon.

    June 15, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  16. Marion Neves

    Dear Mr. Ruff and Ms Costello.

    My husband worked in the oil field and the rigs in the Gulf.
    He left the rigs many years ago because of untrained workers and
    drugs being used on the drill floor. This tragedy was a human error and "Dead men do not tell tales". Men lost their lives, families lost their
    loved ones.

    I watched on C-Span the Coast Guard Inquiry and was shocked to find the employees that survived were not educated. The assistant\
    driller with a 6th grade education. The driller with only high school
    and not even a diploma. These are pretty important positions on a rig. Although we blame BP we must look to the hiring process of Trans
    Ocean. I really did not know that anyone doing such a volatile and
    precise job should only have a 6th grade education. Although they
    do have engineers aboard, at least a high school degree should be
    mandatory. Please look into this as a reporter.

    I am from the Gulf both in Louisiana and Mississippi. I do know fisherman and yes, they are having a hard time. Most of or even
    1/2 of their income are not claimed and therefore there is not
    documentation of their earnings. I, like most people pay cash for seafood on the docks and also local restaurants do the same.
    So claims arenot going to be what they actually earned.

    Greed is a disease and there are Lawyers lurking around every corner

    I love the Gulf Coast and all the people that live here, but check all of
    what I have written and you might be shocked. Marion Neves

    June 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm |