Exxon Louisiana refinery cited for safety breaches

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 13, 2011 4:28 PM
Exxon Louisiana refinery cited for safety breaches

By Erwin Seba

(Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp's refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana exposed workers to possible fires and explosions among other safety violations, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on Tuesday.

"It is fortunate that in this case that no one was injured," the federal worker-safety agency's Baton Rouge area director, Dorinda Folse, said in a statement.

The 502,000-barrels-per-day refinery, the country's second largest, faces $126,000 in fines for the 20 serious and two other-than-serious violations found by the agency in a March 14 inspection. The company has 15 business days to appeal.

Exxon, the world's largest company by market capitalization, reported a second-quarter profit of $10.68 billion.

The violations found by the agency included failures to investigate incidents as related to process safety management, failure to repair equipment and failure to address inconsistent thickness measurements found in pressure vessel inspections.

An Exxon spokeswoman said the company hoped to persuade OSHA to withdraw a number of the citations in upcoming meetings with the agency.

"We believe we comply with all applicable laws and regulations and apply responsible standards where laws and regulations do not exist," Exxon spokeswoman Rachael Moore said in a statement.

"Findings from OSHA National Emphasis Program inspections at four Exxon Mobil facilities in the past two years have resulted in fewer violations of lower severity than the refinery industry average," Moore said.

The United Steelworkers union, which represents hourly workers at the refinery, said Exxon should consider itself lucky.

"The proposed penalties are a drop in the bucket for a company that reported a second-quarter profit of $10.68 billion," USW International Vice President Gary Beevers said in a statement.

"Exxon Mobil should be glad it got off cheaply," Beevers said. "If workers had been killed as a result of the company's health and safety violations it would have cost the company a whole lot more."

The agency began a program of inspections at the country's 150 refineries in 2007, following a federal investigation of a 2005 explosion at BP Plc's Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 180 other people.

In its final report issued in 2007, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found fault with refining industry standards and OSHA's oversight while assigning most of the blame to BP management for the blast.

One failing the safety board cited in the BP explosion, was not seeing malfunctions as near-misses of catastrophic failures at the refinery.

(Editing by Dale Hudson and Bob Burgdorfer)