Feds Search for Cause of Latest BP Accident

An explosion inside a filtration unit at the BP Texas City Plant is one scenario federal investigators want to know more about after a fatal accident last month. Members of the Chemical Safety Board plan to wrap-up their site investigation this week. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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BP Supervisor Joe Gracia was killed January 14th. He died when the 500-pound lid of a unit that filters water blew off and struck him. It was the third fatal accident at the Texas City BP Plant since the March 2005 explosion that killed 15 people. Chemical Safety Board lead investigator Don Holmstrom has been collecting information for several weeks.

"Anytime the Chemical Safety Board is deployed, we arrive under unfortunate circumstances. In this particular case, we approach each incident objectively and look at the facts and go from there. In this particular incident we gathered a certain amount of information, but it's too soon to be able to determine what the causes are or relate them to other events in the refinery."

Investigators do want to know if the wash water used to clean hydrogen also contained explosive hydrocarbons that could have ignited. 24 large steel bolts that held the metal lid in place were either stripped or sheared-off when it blew off.

"It was a swing-bolt assembly. There was a swing-bolt that also involved a cross pin. There was a nut attached to the bolts. Some of the bolts were stripped. Some of the bolts were intact. Some of the bolts failed on the shaft of the bolt itself and so we're going to be examining those to understand if there were any corrosion mechanisms there."

Joe Gracia was 56-years-old and had talked about retirement after three decades at the Texas City plant. Tony Buzbee is an attorney for the Gracia family. He says there have been 478 confirmed chemical leaks, spills or releases there since 2000.

"We are going to patiently wait for the Chemical Safety Board's findings for their conclusions and for the root-cause of this incident. But what we know for sure is that at the plant chemicals are not supposed to escape and covers are not supposed to blow off and kill members of the worker's families."

BP doesn't have much to say about the CSB investigation. A spokesman says the company's own investigators are looking for a cause and BP is cooperating with federal investigators.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...