“When 15 people die, things need to change.”
Brian Ambrose is one of just a few employees who worked at the BP isomerization unit that exploded in 2005 and continue to work for the refinery’s current owner, Marathon Petroleum.
He believes that American refineries are ignoring lessons learned from the disaster, and that the Texas City plant itself risks repeating that horrible day from 10 years ago.
The debris from the unit that exploded has long since been carted away, leaving a bare spot on the refinery grounds. Ambrose, now safety chief at a nearby unit, says he was shocked to see lunch tents and tool trailers erected on the site during a maintenance turnaround in fall 2014, despite an independent government panel’s recommendation that temporary structures be moved far away from dangerous chemical processes.
All of the workers who died in 2005 were killed by blunt force trauma when trailers collapsed and debris flew. For Ambrose, Marathon’s actions represent a desecration of their memory, and a failure to heed history.
“I thank God Every Day that I Get Up.”
Dave Leining still thinks about the Texas City refinery blast when he gets out of bed each morning: He feels twinges in the ankles he broke, his legs remain stiff and his hearing will never be the same.
But the retired longtime BP refinery employee remains grateful to be alive – only by chance, he’d been standing in a slightly protected spot inside a temporary double-wide office trailer when it was blown apart and blasted by a fireball.
When disaster struck, Leining was standing in a doorway in Morris King’s office. King died only a few feet away. Another colleague, Larry Thomas, who’d been leaning against the trailer wall, was killed, too. Linda Rowe had come into the office that day only to return a pair of forgotten glasses to her husband, James. Both Rowes died.
In fact, all 15 workers killed were inside or near that trailer: King, the Rowes, Thomas, Kimberly Smith, Larry Linsenbardt, Daniel Hogan, Eugene White, Rafael Herrera, Glenn Bolton, Jimmy Hunnings, Susan Taylor, Lorena Cruz-Alexander, Arthur Ramos and Ryan Rodriguez.
Leining struggled through months of rehab to escape from a wheelchair. He returned to the BP-Texas City refinery the next year, but later quit in disgust after an incident in which he said co-workers opposed his suggestion to use fire-retardant suits for repair job.
“I realized then it was time for me to move on,” he said. He worked at the Texas City refinery for 36 years - first for Amoco and then for BP.
Disclosure: BP is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
About: The Texas Tribune and the Houston Chronicle spent two months examining whether the nation’s oil refineries learned the lessons of the deadly explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery in 2005 – one of the most studied industrial accidents in U.S. history. Stories by Jim Malewitz, Lise Olsen and Mark Collette – with research and assistance from several colleagues – show that the industry's death toll has barely slowed.
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