Texas blast lessons were not learnt, BP executive claims

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The Independent Online

The BP refinery in Texas where 15 people were killed in an explosion last year was still failing a safety audit more than a year after the incident, according to an executive at the oil company.

The revelation came in a deposition taken as evidence for a potentially embarrassing trial between BP and three employees injured in the blast, which is due to start next month.

Government regulators have already ruled that a savage programme of cost cuts at the refinery led to the explosion, and the scandal has contributed to a collapse in BP's previously good reputation in the US.

The 15 employees died and more than 170 were injured when gas vapours ignited in March 2005, the worst industrial accident in the US for more than a decade. The deposition given last week by Walt Wundrow, the Texas City refinery's technical manager, could provide damaging evidence not just in the latest case, but also for some 300 other related lawsuits set for trial.

He was interviewed by David Perry, a lawyer for three BP employees injured at Texas City. They had previously settled with the company but have reopened their lawsuit because they claim it is not paying their medical bills as promised.

In the deposition - a transcript of which was provided to Bloomberg - Mr Wundrow reveals details of an independent safety audit imposed on BP as part of a September 2005 settlement with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, which fined the company a record $21m for the explosion. The audit by AcuTech Consulting is continuing, with a final report due in 2008, but its early findings in the spring of this year revealed significant ongoing failings in safety procedures at all of the refinery's units.

"For the units that did get audits on process safety information, there were a number of deficiencies found," Mr Perry asked Mr Wundrow, according to the transcript. "Is that true?"

Mr Wundrow replied: "I do not believe they found one unit where they did not have a single [safety violation] finding in their audit process."

The oil company says that every unit undergoes a full safety review before being restarted and that improvements to its safety procedures are being carried out "methodically and safely" and as quickly as possible. The violations discovered by AcuTech may not all be serious issues, a spokesman said.

The Texas City explosion was the first in a string of crises for BP in the US, and the forthcoming trials look set to prolong the bad publicity. This year, the company caused Alaska's worst-ever on-land oil spill, and then had to shut down one of the country's most important oilfields as a result of corroded pipelines.