Originally posted by Erwin Seba - Reuters
HOUSTON, March 8 (Reuters) - BP Plc was accused of more problems in its U.S. operations on Monday when the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced dozens of safety violations found at the BP-Husky refinery in Toledo, Ohio, that could cost the energy giant more than $3 million in fines.
OSHA's announcement comes five months after the agency slapped BP with a record $87.4 million fine for failing to fix safety problems at its giant Texas City, Texas, refinery found after a March 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 180 other people.
"OSHA has found that BP often ignored or severely delayed fixing known hazards in its refineries," said U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in a statement. "There is no excuse for taking chances with people's lives. BP must fix the hazards now."
BP faces a total of $3,042,000 in fines for the violations cited by OSHA at the Toledo refinery.
BP has 15 days to appeal the violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, which is already weighing the appeal of the latest fine against the Texas City refinery.
In a statement, BP again reiterated its commitment to safety throughout all its operations.
"The Toledo refinery's 2009 rate of recordable injuries was more than 25 percent lower than the refining industry average," said BP spokesman Scott Dean in a statement. "In addition, the Toledo refinery has made steady, measurable improvement in matters of process safety."
Dean said BP was disappointed OSHA characterized the majority of violations as willful.
"We will continue to work closely with our local OSHA representatives and look forward to further cooperation with the agency," Dean said.
An internal OSHA memo, provided by Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur's office, said problems with pressure relief valves at the Toledo refinery were "similar to the conditions that existed shortly before the massive 2005 Texas City refinery explosion."
Brent Coon, lead attorney for BP blast victims, said OSHA's findings about the Toledo refinery were not surprising and the financial penalties would do little to change the company's behavior.
"Until our regulatory agencies start throwing the decision-makers in jail to think about it for a while things will never change," Coon said in a statement.
A Husky Energy spokesman said the company had no immediate comment and would probably defer to BP, which operates the plant.
As BP has had to contend with federal and independent safety investigations at its refineries since 2005, the company also has come under scrutiny for maintenance of pipelines in Alaskan oil fields.
In December, BP discovered three oil leaks from Prudhoe Bay field pipelines.
BP previously pleaded guilty to a U.S. Clean Water Act violation for a 2006 spill that released 212,252 gallons of oil on to the tundra, the largest recorded on Alaska's North Slope. The company was placed on probation and told to improve pipeline maintenance.
Last year, BP pleaded guilty to a criminal violation of the U.S. Clean Air Act stemming from the 2005 Texas City refinery blast and paid a $50 million fine. The company was also placed on probation for that violation.
The company paid out more than $2 billion to settle civil lawsuits brought against BP for the Texas City explosion.
BP also has said that it has spent more than $1 billion to fix safety problems at the 455,790-bpd Texas City refinery, which is the third largest in the United States.
At 155,000 bpd, the Toledo refinery is the 47th largest refinery in the country. BP and Husky formed BP-Husky LLC, a 50-50 joint venture to upgrade the refinery to run sour crude from the Canadian oil sands fields.
The Toledo refinery has been inspected 12 times since 1991 by OSHA.
In the most recent inspection, OSHA said it found 38 per-instance, willful violations including 26 instances of deficient pressure relief. (Editing by Lisa Shumaker; editing by Carol Bishopric)