It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since the tragedy at the British Petroleum (BP) Texas City refinery. The March 23, 2005 explosion killed 15 people and injured another 170, the U.S. nation's worst and most fatal industrial incident since 1990. It’s sobering to think about how many lives were impacted by an incident that, as the reports following the investigations showed, could have been prevented. I still remember watching the images on the television following the explosion. I had just moved from another industry to continue my public relations career in the world of refining and energy and thought to myself as I watched the coverage of the BP incident, “I work for the energy industry and a refinery, now. I hope I never have to go through this situation.”
Following tragedies like the BP incident in Texas City, the critical question is always why? What really happened that day five years ago so that it can be prevented in the future? There are learnings from the incident investigations. The Texas City explosion occurred when part of the plant’s isomerization unit, which raises the level of octane in gasoline, overfilled with flammable liquid hydrocarbons. The flammable liquid and vapor ignited as the unit started up. Alarms and gauges that were installed and meant to warn of the overfilling equipment failed to work. More specifically, the investigations pointed to an outdated pressure release system called a blowdown stack that was at the heart of the failures.