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BP Agrees to Pay $50 Million for Earlier Texas City Problems

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A bird's eye view of the wreckage at the BP facility in Texas City on March 24, 2005, after the explosion. (William Philpott/AFP/Getty Images)

BP has agreed to pay a $50.6 million fine for failure to correct safety violations at its Texas City refinery after a deadly 2005 explosion, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Fifteen workers died and 170 more were injured in that 2005 blast—for which OSHA fined BP $21 million and required the company to take corrective actions to improve safety at the refinery. At the time, that was the largest penalty ever assessed by OSHA. BP also agreed to a $50 million plea bargain with the Justice Department for violating the Clean Air Act.

Then, in 2009, OSHA found 270 uncorrected violations and 439 new violations, so it fined BP $87 million, which has consistently been touted as the “largest in OSHA’s history.”

BP initially contested the full amount, and the $50 million it has now agreed to pay covers only part of the original fine, which was reduced to $80 million after some violations were found to have been counted twice. Today’s agreement covers only the uncorrected violations, and not the new violations that were discovered last year. The additional $30 million in penalties for the new violations are still under litigation, according to OSHA.

As we’ve noted, even the original fine—while it may have been a record for the agency—would amount to only about 31 hours’ worth of profit for the oil giant, based on its 2010 first-quarter profit figures.

“We disagree with the assertion that we have a disregard for workplace safety” but have "agreed to put our differences aside" rather than litigate the citations, BP said in a statement, in which the company makes clear it has not admitted to wrongdoing. “The payment of the $50.6m penalty was a condition of the settlement. However, it does not mean that BP violated our previous agreement with OSHA or disregarded worker safety.”

However, since 2009, the problems at BP’s Texas City refinery have persisted, as we have documented. This year, the refinery released more than 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals over 40 days, starting in early April, two weeks before the company's disaster in the Gulf. 

That incident is now the subject of a lawsuit by the state of Texas and several lawsuits by refinery workers and residents of Texas City.

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