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Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery Explosion Highlights Risks of Deferred Maintenance

Undefeated Texas Refinery Explosion Lawyers

A decision to postpone critical maintenance may have contributed to the deadly explosion that rocked Marathon’s Galveston Bay Refinery last May, leaving one worker dead and injuring several others.

Unfortunately, such moves aren’t unusual in the industry.  

In fact, according to a recent Bloomberg News investigation, refiners throughout the United States also opted to delay vital maintenance once demand for gasoline rebounded after the pandemic, pushing their profits to record highs.

“I Saw My Coworkers Nose Basically Melt Off”

Located in Texas City about 42 miles from Houston, Marathon’s 593,000-bpd Galveston Bay Refinery produces gasoline, distillates, aromatics, heavy fuel oil, dry gas, fuel-grade coke, refinery-grade propylene, chemical-grade propylene and sulfur. 

Last year’s fatal explosion ignited on the morning of May 15th and involved one of the facility’s three gasoline-making ultraformers. A 55-year-old machinist died in the resulting fire, while several other contract workers sustained burns to their wrists, hands, faces and ears. 

“I saw my coworker’s nose basically melt off,” one of the injured men told Bloomberg News.

The incident was the Galveston Bay Refinery’s worst tragedy since 2005, when another explosion killed 15 workers and injured hundreds of others at what was then the BP Texas City Refinery.

Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery Delayed Maintenance on Leaking Pump

A subsequent investigation has since identified the source of the explosion as a leaking pump.

According to Bloomberg, Marathon had actually flagged the pump as needing maintenance. But that and other vital upkeep fell victim to the company’s drive to maximize production. Had that maintenance gone on as planned, a crack on the pump would have been identified, and the tragedy likely prevented. Instead, the pump kept running and eventually leaked the highly flammable chemicals that ignited the deadly explosion. 

Deferred maintenance wasn’t Marathon’s only questionable move.

Even as it was pushing to maximize production after the pandemic, the company also eliminated dozens of refinery operator positions and combined processing units to consolidate supervision. While the ultraformer that blew up last May had its own operator prior to 2021, on the day of the explosion, it was being managed by a single operator who was also responsible for two other units simultaneously.

Deferred Maintenance a “Root Cause” of Refinery Deaths

While maximizing fuel production during times of high demand is standard operating procedure in the industry, refiners have a duty to ensure worker safety while striving to meet their financial obligations. Unfortunately, according to Bloomberg, they’re not always successful, as deferred maintenance is frequently a root cause of refinery deaths. 

“When margins are high, there’s a lot of financial pressure not to shut the refinery down for maintenance,” Daniel Horowitz, a former managing director at the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, told Bloomberg. “That can lead to accidents.”

Oversight of the refining industry also leaves a lot to be desired.

For example, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) current rules for refineries were written in 1992. And while the number of inspectors and new safety directives rose under President Obama, many were reversed during the Trump Administration.

Even when a refinery is found to have violated the rules, penalties don’t always stick. According to Bloomberg, OSHA did fine Marathon  $62,500 in connection with last year’s deadly Galveston Bay Refinery explosion. However, two of the four citations, along with half of the fines, were withdrawn after the company disputed the violations.

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If you or a loved one were injured or tragically killed in a refinery accident or explosion, contact our Experienced Houston Explosion Lawyers at 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here to submit a confidential email through our “Contact Us” form.

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