The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Justice Dept. May Pursue Criminal Charges in BP Explosion

by Brendan Coyne

Aug. 26, 2005 – Groups seeking punishment for the alleged misdeeds of a major oil company may be one step closer following recent revelations that operators at a Texas plant where several accidents have recently occurred apparently neglected to repair known defects.

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The findings by the United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) were released last week. Over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Department of Justice was considering referring the case to its environmental crimes unit.

According to CSB statements, operators at the Texas City British Petroleum North America refinery failed to maintain the plant facilities properly and ignored defects in a unit that exploded on March 23, killing 15 workers and injuring another 170 people. The problems were known as early as two weeks before the incident, but repairs were deferred, the CSB said.

Additionally, safety alarms at the plant that failed to function on the day of the blasts were known to be faulty for some time prior to the incident, yet company mangers delayed repairing or replacing them, CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt said last week.

Two weeks ago, BP closed a portion of the refinery following a toxic leak. The leaks came a week after another explosion at the facility.

Organized labor and allied groups have been demanding accountability from the company and pushing federal investigators to consider criminal sanctions.

Earlier this year, the United Steel Workers of America called on BP to shift its priorities away from public relations and toward workplace safety. Two Congressman followed up those calls by introducing legislation that would make employers accountable for worker safety regardless of whether the worker is a direct employee or under contract.

Joining in is the year-old Campaign to Stop Corporate Killing, a grassroots effort to make companies criminally liable for worker deaths, which spearheaded the National Committees on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) Network.

In May, two COSH directors – one in Houston, the other on Western New York – told Buffalo Altpress that the Campaign was considering making the BP explosions the centerpiece of local and national efforts to prod criminal prosecutions of companies that "flagrantly and consistently violate safety and health laws and whose actions result in worker deaths."

According to the Chronicle, lawyers with the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department will likely oversee any criminal investigation of the Texas City BP refinery.

The company declined to comment on the matter, the Chronicle reported. On Wednesday, BP announced its intention to release an internal report on the explosion.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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