BP Cherry Point refinery faces fine for "willful" violations

The BP refinery at Cherry Point has been issued a citation by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries that alleges six violations of workplace safety and health rules, including one “willful violation” of pipeline inspection procedures.

BP spokesperson Bill Kidd said his company “respectfully disagrees” that any of the violations in the citation were made willfully.

The company has until Sept. 13 to appeal the citation. Kidd said an appeal is likely.

“A final decision has not been made [yet], but I suspect we will,” Kidd said. “We don’t believe in that characterization of the quality of our inspection program.”

The willful violation involves a pipeline that ruptured in February and caused a major fire that shut down refinery operations for several months, according to state officials.

The proposed penalties for the citation total $81,500—about three-fourths of which is for the willful violation.

Willful violations are the most significant non-criminal citations that the Labor and Industries department issues. They are used when the department claims a “violation was committed with intentional disregard or plain indifference or substitution of judgement with respect to worker safety and health regulations.”

The ruptured pipeline was identified during a post-fire inspection by state officials as a “dead leg” pipe, which is not often used but still required to be monitored for integrity if it carries material used in the refining process.

According to the citation, state officials said BP did not ensure that inspection and testing procedures for the pipeline followed “recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices.”

Kidd said the Cherry Point refinery placed two wireless devices on the pipe to allow for continuous remote monitoring. Unfortunately, the devices were not placed in locations that allowed refinery workers to discover the break down before the pipe ruptured, he said.

“We did not catch this in time,” Kidd said. “But we did not expect to have this kind of incident.”

Elaine Fischer, an L&I official, said when a violation is made willfully its penalty is automatically increased.

“If it’s found to be willful, it’s multiplied by a factor of 10,” Fischer said.

The five other violations in the citation alleged a failure of BP to comply with requirements for managing processes that use highly hazardous chemicals. The department is not alleging those violations were made willfully.

Fischer said a state inspection of the refinery in April 2010 also found multiple safety breaches, but they were different than the ones in the current citation.

“None of the violations cited at this time were repeat violations,” Fischer said.

The Cherry Point refinery produces roughly one-fifth of all gasoline used in Washington state. It supplies the majority of jet fuel used in international airports in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia.

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