Federal Safety Board Claims Tesoro Blocked it from Investigating Acid Spill, Injured Workers

February 27, 2014 19:58 pm · 18 comments

A federal safety board is challenging Tesoro after the oil company barred the agency from investigating a chemical spill at its Martinez refinery earlier this month that injured two employees.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso sent a letter on Wednesday to Tesoro CEO Gregory Goff stating his disappointment that the has blocked a CSB investigation into the Feb. 12 leak.

He said Tesoro’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation calls into question what else the company could be hiding and signals a larger problem of a lax safety culture.

Around 2:40 a.m. on Feb. 12, two workers at the Martinez refinery were splashed with sulfuric acid. They were airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center to be treated for what Moure-Eraso described as first and second-degree chemical burns and released later that day.

Statements from Tesoro representatives, however, have described the burns suffered by the workers as “minor injuries.”

The CSB letter claims that management at the Martinez refinery haven’t allowed agency staff to return to the site after an initial refinery visit following the spill or to conduct interviews as part of a federally mandated investigation.

Tesoro spokeswoman Elizabeth Watters said in an emailed statement today that CSB was allowed access to the refinery “on multiple occasions” despite the company’s “concern about the CSB’s authority to investigate an incident of this type.” The company has also made refinery employees available for interviews, Watters said.

She said the refinery is fully cooperating with Cal/OSHA’s investigation into the leak, “as it is clearly within their jurisdiction to investigate.”

Moure-Eraso also wrote in the letter that refinery management refused to preserve the scene of the spill and have indicated they would not comply with a subpoena to release documents about operations in the refinery’s sulfuric acid alkylation unit where the leak occurred.

He said that the CSB’s investigation so far has shown that on Feb. 12, equipment connected to a 100,000-gallon vessel containing flammable hydrocarbons and concentrated sulfuric acid experienced a “mechanical integrity failure” and released five gallons of acid per minute until workers were able to stop the leak.

Investigators also found that workers at the refinery at the time did not have ready access to required protective face and body gear, leaving them even more vulnerable to injury, according to the letter.

“Acid splashing on worker’s unprotected faces or other parts of the body, resulting in first and second-degree burns requiring air evacuations to a hospital burn unit, treatment and subsequent significant lost time at work, absolutely constitute serious injuries,” he wrote.

In addition, Moure-Eraso wrote, some workers at the refinery told CSB staff that they worry they could lose their jobs if they report safety concerns at the refinery.

He concluded by urging Tesoro to “reverse course, recognize its error and cooperate with the lawfully authorized CSB investigation.”

Watters said Tesoro is in the process of reviewing the letter and is continuing to communicate with the CSB.

The CSB is an independent federal agency tasked with finding the root causes of chemical safety violations that it shares with workers, the industry and the public with the aim of averting future accidents.

The agency doesn’t have regulatory power and cannot fine a company for a safety breach.

RELATED STORY: UPDATE: Tesoro Refinery Workers Suffer Minor Injuries in Acid Spill

1 CrankCord Doug February 27, 2014 at 8:10 PM

It’s sad that a few refineries give all refineries a bad name.

2 Jerk February 27, 2014 at 8:24 PM

Uh ohhh! Should have busted out the drones for some in depth footage ~ or just get a few helicopters over there.

3 Anonymous February 27, 2014 at 8:39 PM

Another alphabet agency trying to justify it’s existence.Quoting anonymous sources.Get a search warrant or shut up.

4 Ted K., SuperMax February 27, 2014 at 8:47 PM

No problem. The EPA, DOJ, and IRS block investigations too. HYPOCRITES.

5 Concord February 27, 2014 at 8:53 PM

How about that stinky pond of Tesoro’s that smells throughout the entire East County ruining everyone’s air quality. Feel sorry for unsuspecting homeowners and you new homeowners in North Concord are going to be really disappointed because it stinks all over Willow Pass and the Naval Weapons area.

6 Anonymous February 27, 2014 at 9:37 PM

It’s hysterical that the Feds should complain about anyone not cooperating with an investigation. Lets see: Fast and furious,Bengazi, IRS. All issues where the Feds refused to cooperate with Congress.

OSHA has this covered so the Feds should wander off.

7 Funnyclown February 27, 2014 at 10:44 PM

All tesoro has done is just opened the flood gates for scrutiny at the martinez site, they just put themselves on the radar of OSHA, BAAQD, and EPA. Sounds like some managers will retire soon.

8 nytemuvr February 28, 2014 at 1:58 AM

@Concord #5
I was born there in 1954 and that is part of living in CCC, swamps by themselves smell even before the refineries, after the refineries it stank. Try living in Clyde.

9 ME February 28, 2014 at 3:20 AM

Shell Oil was and I think still is on the EPS’s watch list . And one of the things they are on for is just this. Considering what they make right in a populated area and the volatile things they produce, from deadly chemicals to explosive gas, you name it, we need to know and have someone watch them who knows what is going on. For all our safety/. Shell is a foreign company making gas and other chemicals and compounds in Our country,. making Billions. Don’t we have the right they operate as safe as possible and let EPS inside?????? I would rest easier if they didn’t think they were above our laws and rules…

10 Anonymous February 28, 2014 at 7:20 AM

OSHA has this covered. Pointy headed Feds with nothing to do got their feelings hurt. You can tell that when they start talking about unnamed sources. Totally irrelevant to inspection.

They should get a search warrant . Bet they don’t.

11 @me February 28, 2014 at 8:44 AM

That was one of the most confused posts of the week.

12 whatever floats your boat February 28, 2014 at 9:20 AM

I wonder what else Tesoro and other refineries are hiding. Unfortunately, I work downwind from these refineries (close to Buchanan Field). On some days, the air here has a terrible chemical smell. The smell quality was so bad here on Tuesday or Wednesday (like chemical lawn fertilizer), I did not want to go outside and take my daily walk at work. There was also a haze in the air.

I’m sure that whatever causes that chemical smell is worse for our health than burning wood in my wood stove!

13 anon February 28, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Give them a badge and gun and nobody going to stop them.

14 Just thinking out loud February 28, 2014 at 11:03 AM

We all recognize that refineries are dirty and hazardous. We also recognize that industry far exceeds the pollutants put out by our evil fireplaces and BBQ’s.

With this said, this Chemical Safety Board thing seems like a government agency trying to be “relevant”. The refineries are already overseen by the Federal OSHA and our redundant CalOSHA. Even Tesoro acknowledges that they must comply to inspections, investigations, etc. from the OSHA crowd. This CSB thing seems completely redundant and more like government agency in-fighting than anything meaningful.

I’m not a big fan of all of the heavy industry in our neighborhood, but this particular instance seems like Tesoro is just declining to be part of a witch hunt because a couple of people suffered first and second degree burns in a relatively (at least in the world of heavy industry) minor accident. Most of us have accomplished the same level of injuries in our kitchens at home.

Despite my biases, I have to side with Tesoro on this particular round of government fishing expeditions.

15 Funnyclown February 28, 2014 at 4:29 PM

@me

Read the story first buddy. Shell is on the other side of 680. The plant in question is TESORO. Like earlier post said MOST CONFUSED. Just drive by perimeters of both plants and you will see great differences.

16 Me March 1, 2014 at 1:14 PM

@ You two. I am speaking of oil refineries in general, and pointed out Shell was on the EPA watch list for this same issue. We have SEVEN refineries in the Bay Area I believe, all on fault lines, and it is ion All our interest IMO to have outside agencies keep a close eye on them for us, be it Shell, Tesoro or chevron… I read the story. Also Dow Chemical, other companies that make or transport potentially explosive hazardous compounds, chemicals , cargo, need to be inspected often and openly. put it this way, you talk about a bad road, and I mention another road that is bad, or needs looking at, and spoke of roads in general, would you also say I was confused. Give me a break.

17 research, dummy March 10, 2014 at 8:05 PM

To all complaining about refineries being in your neighborhoods, don’t build your neighborhood next to a refinery. Don’t buy a house next to a refinery. When that refinery was built, 101 years ago, it was so remote that a village was located on premesis for the employees to live in. Also, don’t forget all the other industries located on or near Tesoro that cause smells. On the property is a Monsanto catalyst plant, a hydrogen plant, a cogeneration plant and Kinder Morgan’s tankage. Right next to it is the county water treatment plant.

18 Atticus Thraxx March 10, 2014 at 9:43 PM

I think people are reacting to repeated, serious and avoidable releases from Tesoro. Clearly the have a process and leadership void. Or they hire ‘tards.Probably both.

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