Thursday, December 21, 2006

Eva Rowe and BP

As a result of this, I have a lot of respect for Eva Rowe who lost both her parents in the BP blast:
the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which treated the most critically injured during the blast, talked about its plans for $12.5 million it received as part of the settlement between BP and Eva Rowe, the daughter of two workers killed at the refinery.
However, I am not enthusiastic about this development:
Rowe said the settlement with the oil giant is only the beginning for her. She and her attorney, Brent Coon, said they are planning a campaign calling for mandatory safety changes in the petrochemical industry.
Rowe and Coon have the Eva bill in mind. It can be found here. Here are my comments:

1) Most of actions suggested by the bill already fall under OSHA and other federal or state agencies. Why do they want redundant inspections and injury reporting just involving petrochemical facilities.?

2) One section says:
This task force is changed with the inspection of all such facilities to assign process safety standards conform to established industry standards and operate within all guidelines or regulations as established by the TNRCC, the EPA and any other states or federal agency involved in the monitoring or regulation of environmental standards.
I hate to tell Rowe and Coon, but the TNRCC (lovingly called "train wreck" in the industry) no longer exists. The relevant state agency is called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. This change was effective in 2002, more than four years ago. The TCEQ already has the power to inspect any facility and ensure we operate within all guidelines established by any number of statues and operating permits. There are also city and county agencies that monitor and inspect petrochemical facilities regarding environmental issues. They will crawl up your backside at any opportunity. Why do Rowe and Coon want to create another agency to do exactly what these agencies already perform?

3) Another brilliant section:
This division shall further create a task force to inspect facilities primarily engaged in the manufacture or distribution of products or materials identified as known or probable carcinogens or with known or recognizable flammable or explosive properties (hereinafter referenced as high risk worksites).
I find it interesting that the chemical industry is one of the safest professions on a statistical basis. And yet, we are branded as "high risk worksites". This is an illogical brand given the dangerous nature of construction and commercial fishing.

4) More:
Each employer and/or worksite owner involving high risk facilities shall report to the commission for permits for the installation of any temporary housing to be located on the premises engaged in the manufacture, production or distribution of products identified at Sec. 411.154 (d). No such temporary buildings are to be allowed on the premises of any such facility without a permit approving the structure and location. No such permits shall be approved by this commission or approved to locate any such temporary structures within 1000 feet of process units or storage facilities containing flammable or explosive materials with the intent of utilizing such facilities for occupancy by personnel.
Why 1000 feet? Why not 10,000 feet? Why not dictate that all structures must survive a 500 lb bomb detonation?

5) And to top it all off:
Refinery/Chemical Facility Start Ups/Shutdowns: Refinery or chemical facility unit startups and planned shutdowns shall be initiated only upon 48 hour advance written notice to this agency and to all personnel working within 1000 feet of the unit. Employers are expressly prohibited from allowing any nonessential personnel within 1000 feet at any time during the startup process of a unit.
This is the most ignorant part of the whole proposal. It is obvious that no one who advised on this bill has ever worked in a chemical plant. Having to advise any government agency of a startup 48 hours before it occurs would absolutely cripple any chemical plant in the world. A lot of chemical processes are batch in nature meaning they startup and shut down all the time. Hell, pumps, compressors, exchangers, etc are started up and shut down all the time. Under this bill, would that necessitate a 48 hour notice each time starting up an individual piece of equipment? Would a 15 minute shutdown due to a power failure require a 48 hour notice? Would a loading/unloading operation require a 48 hour notice prior to starting up?

The bottom line is I applaud Rowe for structuring the settlement like she did. If she wants advice on making plants safer, I would advise getting a plant education first. For a small fee, I would be glad to advise her on the subject. Needless to say, I would not advise anything she requests in this bill.

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