Monday, July 5, 2010

Frontline: Blast at BP Texas Refinery in '05 Foreshadowed Gulf Disaster

This article is part of an ongoing collaboration between ProPublica and FRONTLINE that will include a FRONTLINE program in the fall.

TEXAS CITY, TEXAS -- Ever since the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, Dave Senko has been tallying the similarities between what he calls "my blast" in 2005 and this new BP disaster.

"His" blast erupted on a clear March afternoon at an antiquated BP refinery that sits on the southern edge of this small Texas town. It killed 15 people -- four more than died on the Deepwater Horizon -- including 11 contractors in a crew that Senko led at the site. Unlike the Deepwater Horizon, however, the effects of the 2005 blast were largely confined to Texas City, so the story of what happened there quickly slipped from the national news.

The Texas City disaster has taken on new relevance today, because the investigations that were done in its aftermath reveal so much about the company that is responsible for what's happening now in the Gulf. Government probes, court filings and BP's own confidential investigations paint a picture of a company that ignored repeated warnings about the plant's deteriorating condition and instead remained focused on minimizing costs and maximizing profits. According to a safety audit BP conducted just before the 2005 blast, many of the plant's more than 2,000 employees arrived at work each day with an "exceptional degree of fear of catastrophic incidents."

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