Senate panel told CSB needs more funding, authority

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, July 11 -- The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) needs more funding and authority if it is to be truly effective, witnesses told a US Senate subcommittee July 10. The federal agency has investigated 42 refining, chemical, and other plant accidents since its formation in 1990 but continues to meet resistance from local governments and other federal agencies in some cases, witnesses said.

"The board's work has led to more plant inspections, better protections for workers, and more attention to safety issues in corporate board rooms. But even though it prevents injuries and saves lives, the board needs more funding to investigate accidents," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee's Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality subcommittee.

Lautenberg expressed concern that CSB encounters resistance from other government entities as it tries to do its work. He cited a case in which a local fire marshal in Danvers, Mass. blocked the board for nearly a week from investigating a chemical explosion at an ink manufacturing plant, during which time, "crucial evidence may have been lost," he said.

He noted that CSB has received the same annual appropriation for the last 3 fiscal years. CSB Chairwoman Carolyn W. Merritt said the agency, which has 40 staff members, has a $9 million budget and has requested $10.5 million for fiscal 2008. Budget limitations and a lack of qualified investigators have kept the agency from examining 10-15 accidents this year, she added.

Information limited
Merritt also indicated that CSB did not receive all the documents it sought from the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration while it investigated the March 2005 fire and explosion at BP America Inc.'s Texas City, Tex., refinery that killed 15 and injured about 180 people. "It directly impacted our evaluation," she said.

Deborah Dietrich, who directs the emergency management office within EPA's solid waste and emergency response office, countered that EPA "provided a great amount of information. We did not see how questions regarding the number of inspections were relevant."

Merritt testified, "We made recommendations to OSHA but did not make one to EPA because we did not have the information." In her written statement, she noted that the National Transportation Safety Board, in a 2002 report, said that both EPA and OSHA have few safety inspectors compared with the number of high-hazard chemical facilities—about 14,000—which federal regulations cover.

Supplanting EPA
Timothy R. Gablehouse, president of the National Association of SARA Title 3 Program Officials and chairman of the local emergency planning committee in Jefferson County, Colo., suggested that CSB is supplanting EPA as a major federal safety agency at oil refineries and chemical plants "even though EPA has regulatory ownership of both primary statutory programs that create the structure of these efforts."

CSB recommendations in the last few years have focused on local preparedness, the use of local emergency planning committees, and enhancing relationships within communities to prevent and prepare for accidents, Gablehouse said in his written statement. "Its adoption of video reconstruction to communicate the results of investigations also has been extremely beneficial to those at the local level," Gablehouse said

Scott Berger, who directs the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' chemical process safety center in New York, said CSB's investigations enable companies, regulators, and workers to take necessary actions to avoid future accidents. He urged that CSB be adequately funded and staffed "to carry out in-depth incident investigations, capture the learning, and communicate that information to the industry, technical associations, regulators, and the public."

Merritt also urged the committee to compare CSB's statutory authority with that of NTSB, on which it was modeled. "The authority of CSB to preserve and determine the testing of evidence is much less explicit than the NTSB's authority," she said. "Last year, when the CSB proposed a procedural rule on evidence preservation at accident sites, some industry voices objected that Congress had never intended CSB to exercise such preservation authority." She said delayed investigations often result in important physical evidence being lost or destroyed. "Clarification of these issues by Congress would improve the quality and speed of CSB investigations," Merritt said in her written statement.

Other suggestions
Congress must make clear that no local, state or federal agency may block CSB access to the site of a chemical release, particularly during the early stages when physical evidence is most pristine and in the greatest peril, Merritt said. She also said it was important that CSB, EPA, and OSHA field teams have reasonable access to the other agencies' records and employees to conduct investigations.

"Congress could also consider providing a limited degree of statutory protection for CSB's own investigative records to prevent indiscriminate use in litigation and criminal prosecutions. The possible future use of information gathered by CSB in the courtroom can have a strong chilling impact on our ability to conduct our safety investigations and can detract from our independence," said Merritt, whose 5-year term as the CSB's chairwoman ends in August.

Berger said that AIChE and its chemical process safety center would like to see experienced chemical engineers named to replace the chairwoman and a board member whose terms are expiring.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

Related Articles

WAFWA: Aerial survey finds lesser prairie chicken population grew

07/06/2015 A recent range-wide aerial survey found the lesser prairie chicken population rose 25% from 2014 to 2015, the Western Association of Fish & Wil...

South Africa’s Enref refinery due maintenance

07/06/2015 Engen Petroleum Ltd. will shut down its 125,000-b/d Enref refinery in Durban, South Africa, for planned maintenance beginning on July 9, the compan...

Buru awarded onshore Canning licenses

07/06/2015 Buru Energy Ltd., Perth, and Mitsubish Corp. have been granted two production licenses for Ungani oil field in the onshore Canning basin of Western...

Cenovus sells royalty business for $3.3 billion

07/06/2015 Cenovus Energy Inc., Calgary, inked an agreement to sell its wholly owned subsidiary Heritage Royalty LP to Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan for gros...

CERI: Energy, operational efficiencies possible in Canadian oil, gas

07/06/2015 Measures can be taken by operators in the expanding resource-intensive Canadian oil and gas sector to improve both energy efficiency and operationa...

AGL Energy to scale back upstream gas operations

07/06/2015

Gas retailer AGL Energy Ltd., Sydney, says it will exit the oil business and massively scaling back its upstream gas operations.

Macondo settlement seen ‘positive’ for BP

07/06/2015 BP Exploration & Production Inc.’s recent agreement to settle federal and state claims related to the 2010 Macondo blowout and spill improves t...

Court to EPA: Costs matter

07/06/2015 Oil and gas groups did not respond immediately when the US Supreme Court ruled on June 29 that the US Environmental Protection Agency acted unreaso...

Nelson-Farrar Quarterly Costimating Indexes for selected equipment items

07/06/2015 The Nelson-Farrar refinery construction index rose to 2,475.6 by December 2012 from 2,467.4 in January of the same year. The index continued to ris...
White Papers

2015 Global Engineering Information Management Solutions Competitive Strategy Innovation and Leadership Award

The Frost & Sullivan Best Practices Awards recognise companies in a variety of regional and global...
Sponsored by

Three Tips to Improve Safety in the Oil Field

Working oil fields will always be tough work with inherent risks. There’s no getting around that. Ther...
Sponsored by

Pipeline Integrity: Best Practices to Prevent, Detect, and Mitigate Commodity Releases

Commodity releases can have catastrophic consequences, so ensuring pipeline integrity is crucial for p...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Digital Asset Approach - Defining a new era of collaboration in capital projects and asset operations

There is constant, intensive change in the capital projects and asset life cycle management. New chall...
Sponsored by

Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry with EPPM

With budgets in the billions, timelines spanning years, and life cycles extending over decades, oil an...
Sponsored by

Asset Decommissioning in Oil & Gas: Transforming Business

Asset intensive organizations like Oil and Gas have their own industry specific challenges when it com...
Sponsored by

Squeezing the Green: How to Cut Petroleum Downstream Costs and Optimize Processing Efficiencies with Enterprise Project Portfolio Management Solutions

As the downstream petroleum industry grapples with change in every sector and at every level, includin...
Sponsored by

7 Steps to Improve Oil & Gas Asset Decommissioning

Global competition and volatile markets are creating a challenging business climate for project based ...
Sponsored by
Available Webcasts


Driving Growth and Efficiency with Deep Insights into Operational Data

When Wed, Aug 19, 2015

Capitalizing on today’s momentum in Oil & Gas requires operational excellence based on a clear view of what your business data is telling you. Which is why nearly half* of oil and gas companies have deployed SAP HANA or have it on their roadmap.

Join SAP and Red Hat to learn more about using data to drive process improvements and identify new opportunities with the SAP HANA platform running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. This webinar will also show how your choice of infrastructure impacts the performance of core business applications and your ability to achieve data-driven insights quickly and reliably.

*48% use SAP, http://go.sap.com/solution/industry/oil-gas.html

register:WEBCAST



On Demand

OGJ's Midyear Forecast 2015

Fri, Jul 10, 2015

This webcast is to be presented by OGJ Editor Bob Tippee and Senior Economic Editor Conglin Xu.  They will summarize the Midyear Forecast projections in key categories, note important changes from January’s forecasts, and examine reasons for the adjustments.

register:WEBCAST


Predictive Analytics in your digital oilfield - Optimize Production Yield and Reduce Operational Costs

Tue, Jul 7, 2015

Putting predictive analytics to work in your oilfield can help you anticipate failures, plan and schedule work in advance, eliminate emergency work and catastrophic failures, and at the same time you can optimize working capital and improve resource utilization.  When you apply analytic capabilities to critical production assets it is possible to reduce non-productive time and increase your yield.

Learn how IBM's analytics capabilities can be applied to critical production assets with the goal of reducing non-productive time, increasing yield and reducing operations costs.

register:WEBCAST


Cognitive Solutions for Upstream Oil and Gas

Fri, Jun 12, 2015

The oil & gas sector is under pressure on all sides. Reserves are limited and it’s becoming increasingly expensive to find and extract new resources. Margins are already being squeezed in an industry where one wrong decision can cost millions. Analyzing data used in energy exploration can save millions of dollars as we develop ways to predict where and how to extract the world’s massive energy reserves.

This session with IBM Subject Matter Experts will discuss how IBM Cognitive Solutions contribute to the oil and gas industry using predictive analytics and cognitive computing, as well as real time streaming for exploration and drilling.

register:WEBCAST


Emerson Micro Motion Videos

Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected