You can always quibble over the notion that some so-called safety violations may not be as serious as others, but when your state leads the U.S.A. in refinery safety violations and you're not Texas, something is very wrong.
Amazingly, Wyoming oil refineries faced more citations for dangerous safety conditions per oil barrel of production capacity than those in any other state over the past five years, according to a review of federal data by the Star-Tribune.
Government safety inspectors hit Wyoming refiners with 239 citations for serious, willful or repeat safety violations in 2008-2012, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That means Wyoming refiners were cited on an average of every eight days.
Only two other states — Louisiana and Texas, each of which has at least triple the number of refineries and around 20 times Wyoming’s refining capacity — were cited for at least 200 violations over the same period. Wyoming hosts just six refineries that produce about 165,000 barrels of oil per day.
The past two years alone have uncovered serious safety concerns at Wyoming refineries, which were cited by regulators for 205 safety violations in just 2011 and 2012, OSHA data shows.
(Here's where the 'damage control' comes in...)
“From our end, we have taken this thing very seriously,” said Clint Ensign, a senior vice president for Sinclair Oil, owner of two of Wyoming’s six refineries and two of the three most-cited refineries in the state. “This is a big concern to us.”
Sinclair’s two refineries — in Evansville and near Rawlins — together earned 106 violations and $483,631 in proposed fines in 2011 and 2012. Violations ranged from failure to ensure proper training of employees to failure to inspect equipment frequently enough. The company’s refineries were also cited 27 times in 2008 and 2010.
John Ysebaert, a Wyoming OSHA administrator, said that the state's refineries have had a 'laid-back approach' that seems prevalent among workers. Of course, now that the Star-Tribune has exposed the indifference, the state wants you to believe that things are going to change.
Last summer, refiners around the state formed the Wyoming Refinery Safety Alliance in an attempt to solve the problem. Gov. Matt Mead encouraged the organization's formation, and Wyoming OSHA staff have since aided the group.
Here's what Governor Mead said after the embarassing report was published:
"Industry has shown its responsiveness to the well-being of workers by recently forming the Wyoming Refinery Safety Alliance," Mead said in a prepared statement. "Wyoming OSHA has also added staff with expertise in refinery inspections over the last two years."
Industry has shown its responsiveness? Is he kidding?
How about telling us how often the Safety Alliance has met and what it has accomplished. The real answers, I suspect, might produce yet another embarassment.