In light of the series of incidents that have plagued BP's Texas City refinery since March 2005, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) announced it will launch a full-scale investigation on the refinery's most recent incident, which claimed the life of one worker.
BP Supervisor Joseph Garcia was killed on Jan. 14 when a bolted-down metal lid flew off a water filtration vessel as it was being restarted, CSB said. The filtration system is attached to a compressor on the refinery's ultracracker unit, which makes raw materials used to process gasoline and other products.
According to CSB Lead Investigator Don Holmstrom, because the bolts were “either sheared off or stripped” as well as “propelled a large distance away,” only a very significant force could have blown the metal lid off in such a manner.
A variety of scenarios could explain the sudden build-up of pressure inside the filtration vessel, Holmstrom said. For instance, an explosion may have occurred inside the filter. Holmstrom stated that several witnesses told CSB the process water used in the filtration system “sometimes contained hydrogen, flammable light hydrocarbons and hydrogen sulfide, a toxic and flammable gas.” He explained that when in the presence of oxygen and an ignition source, these substances could become fuel for an explosion.
“Typically in refinery service, when flammables may be present, it is critically important to remove oxygen to avoid possible fires and explosions,” Holmstrom noted. “We are examining BP's procedures and practices to understand if air may have in fact remained in the filtration system.”
Although the agency team interviewed approximately 35 witnesses, including several who were in the accident's immediate area, CSB Board Member William Wark said the probe could take a number of months.
“The goal of this investigation is to determine as precisely as possible what happened to cause this unfortunate event and to make recommendations to BP and to others to prevent similar accidents in the future,” Wark said.