Feds Find Culture Of 'Complacency' At Tesoro Before Deadly Refinery Fire

Jan 30, 2014

A culture of complacency at Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery led to the deadly fireball that claimed the lives of seven workers in 2010, according to federal investigators who've spent almost four years examining the causes.

The equipment that exploded in the early hours of April 2, 2010 had developed leaks that the company knew about. The carbon steel tubing of the equipment had been weakened over time by hydrogen and that had caused cracks. 

Dan Tillema, lead investigator with the Chemical Safety Board, says the company’s culture allowed the leaks to be viewed as normal.

"People accepted it over time and it just wasn’t adequately addressed and prevented, which allowed more people to be present than needed to be present at the time this incident occurred,” Tillema said.

Night of the disaster

On the night of the disaster, six workers from other units came to help the person who was turning equipment back on after cleaning. But one cracked piece burst into flames when flammable material inside came into contact with air.

Don Holmstrom with the Chemical Safety Board says another problem is a lack of robust oversight by government.

“[The problem involves] regulators who are really often outgunned with insufficient number of inspectors who don’t have the technical experience and training to adequately oversee facilities. There’s a serious problem with refinery accidents in the U.S.,” he said.

Tesoro spokeswoman Tina Barbee says the company deeply regrets the incident, but disagrees with the investigators on several findings, especially the critique of its safety culture. The public can comment on the draft report until March 16.  

Delay

Representative Rick Larsen and Senator Patty Murray both criticized the Chemical Safety Board for taking so long to deliver the report. 

"I don't have a lot of sympathy for the Chemical Safety Board," Larsen said. "My sympathy is with the families in Anacortes. They took way too long. Keep in mind that the CSB took people off this investigation job to go do another investigation down in California and then completed that draft report before returning to the Tesoro report in order to finish it."

Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso says the agency is short-staffed. He also said they didn't want to rush the report because they wanted to be thorough and make sure it was "bulletproof."

See animation of the blast: