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Vol. 74/No. 18      May 10, 2010

Oil rig blast highlights
BP’s unsafe track record
(front page)
HOUSTON, April 26—Eleven workers are still missing from the explosion that occurred April 20 at the Deepwater Horizon oil platform off the coast of Louisiana. The U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for them three days after the blast.

The rig is owned by Transocean, the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor, and leased to the London-based oil giant British Petroleum (BP).

The platform burned for 36 hours before a second explosion sank it. The well could be spilling up to 336,000 gallons of crude oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Coast Guard petty officer Katherine McNamara told the press. Of the 126 workers on the platform, 115 escaped, at least four of whom were critically injured.

Lawsuits have been filed against the company for negligence on behalf of two of the missing workers.

Since 2001 the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS) has counted 69 offshore oil rig deaths, 1,349 injuries, and 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf alone. More than 500 fires occurred since 2006.

Deepwater drilling has been expanding, as shallow wells have begun to dry up and companies scramble to ex ploit new areas for profit. In late March President Barack Obama announced a proposal to open up drilling in new parts of the Gulf of Mexico and along the southeastern coast.

Just two days before the explosion, a worker was killed in a crane accident at the Motiva Enterprise’s refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. Two weeks earlier, five workers were killed in the Tesoro Refinery blast in Anacortes, Washington. An explosion and fire at Holly Corporation’s refinery in New Mexico killed two workers March 2.

The April 21 explosion on the BP-leased platform comes only a few months after the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined the company $77.4 million for safety violations at its Texas City oil refinery. A blast at the refinery in 2005 killed 15 people and injured 170 others.

Since 2005 three more workers have been killed at the plant. OSHA has issued 270 safety notifications, noting that there were 439 instances of “willful and egregious” safety violations at the facility. BP is contesting the fines.

On March 16, U.S. district judge Kenneth Hoyt set aside punitive damages that a jury had awarded in December to 10 workers at the plant who sued the company for exposure to toxic chemicals. Hoyt wrote in his ruling that, “the nature of refinery work is that workers are subject to a variety of toxic odors at all times.” BP was not guilty, he said, because both the workers and company “are fully aware of the potential hazards that exist in a refinery.”

Asked whether Obama had second thoughts on the expansion of offshore drilling, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “No.”

“We need the increased production. The president still continues to believe the great majority of that can be done safely, securely, and without any harm to the environment,” he said.

Gibbs added cynically, “I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last.”
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