New Safety Alert Issued in Response to Tesoro Refinery Blast

August 17, 2016

Federal investigators have issued new safety recommendations aimed at preventing accidents similar to the 2010 explosion that killed seven workers at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board released the safety alert Thursday after concluding that new industry guidelines weren’t strong enough to prevent future accidents.

The board investigation into the refinery blast, one of the worst industrial disasters in Washington state, found that a device called a heat exchanger cracked and weakened over time, even though safety measures aligned with industry standards, The Skagit Valley Herald reported.

The agency found the heat exchanger weakened because of what is called high temperature hydrogen attack, and it issued safety recommendations to the industry.

The American Petroleum Institute, which sets industry standards for preventing incidents such as the one at Tesoro, released new guidelines in February in response to the board investigation, but the board in July found that there were too many deficiencies.

“In the absence of industry guidance that incorporates findings from the Tesoro Anacortes failure, the (board) is issuing a safety alert to provide additional direction for industry,” the board’s chairwoman, Vanessa Allen Sutherland, said in a statement Thursday.

Tesoro said in a statement Friday that it would “continue to review and evaluate the recommendations and guidance” in order to have high safety standards.

Five men and two women died in the April 2, 2010, blast about 70 miles north of Seattle.

Washington state regulators in 2010 fined the company nearly $2.4 million for 39 willful violations and five serious violations of safety and health regulations. The Department of Labor and Industries said its investigation determined the incident was preventable. It says Tesoro did not properly inspect or test equipment at the refinery.

In January 2011, Tesoro appealed to a state insurance board. Tesoro has disputed the state’s characterization of its safety procedures and inspections, and contends the conclusions of the state’s investigation are mistaken.

Over the years, numerous legal motions have delayed hearings in the case, which concluded last month. The administrative law judge presiding over the case earlier dismissed many violations against Tesoro but that decision hasn’t been finalized yet.

The judge’s decision is expected in September. His ruling will be reviewed by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, which will issue a final order.

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