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ExxonMobil Refinery Fire Update, Federal Investigators Seek Tighter Regulations

Posted By Arnold & Itkin LLP || 19-Apr-2013

Wednesday morning in Beaumont, Texas a refinery flash fire occurred at the ExxonMobil site. At the time of the incident the processing unit in which the fire occurred was shut down for maintenance, though there were contract workers on the site conducting the repairs through various contracting companies in the area. Twelve of these workers were injured on the scene, four of which were reported to be in critical condition suffering from severe burn wounds from the flames. Exxon reports that all contract workers and employees were safely evacuated from the premises, and their sincere apologies go out to the victims and their families. This routine maintenance was being conducted on schedule, as a planned turnaround; no known dangers were present at the time the workers were in the unit. One concern has been noted by the United Steelworker union, is that Texas refineries routine maintenance schedules in many cases only happen every 4 to 5 years; and for safety reasons need to occur much more regularly.

Latest news reports share that the people of Beaumont and the surrounding communities are rallying around those who have been injured in the fire, seeking to offer their prayers and support to them and their families. One local news source, the Beaumont Enterprise, shares words from a friend of a wife whose husband was injured in the fire. Ashleigh Laverne shares that Lance and Jessika Smith are an "amazing young little couple" who have the privilege of raising a new baby girl. Laverne and many others are coming around this particular family hoping for the best in this tragic situation. Lance Smith is among seven of the victims who were transported to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston after the fire.

A spokeswoman for UTMB, Molly Danninmaeir, reports that out of the 7 being currently treated, one is now listed in good condition, two remain in serious condition and four are still in critical condition. Yesterday the three contracting companies who employed the 12 injured workers were released as KT Maintenance, Signature Industrial Services, and Brock Services LLC. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at this time reveals no records of past safety issues with any of these three companies. Reports show that Exxon has officially filed their report with OSHA, and it is now the administrations responsibility to complete the investigation within the next six months, if not sooner.

Preliminary investigations done by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show that the refinery did not cause recordable levels of emissions to be released and has therefore been classified as a "flash fire" event. Kathleen Jackson, the ExxonMobil spokesperson, shares that they are cooperating with all investigations to find the cause of the fire and they are working with the three contracting companies to ensure that the workers receive financial assistance for their injuries. One particular reason this refinery fire caused such confusion for the company and the community is because the Exxon Beaumont facility is known to have the least incidents when compared with the average in the industry as a whole. Exxon promises that they are doing whatever they can to get to the bottom of the cause, and they share their gratitude to the emergency response teams who were quick to help in their time of need.

Despite the refinery having the fewest of incidents in the industry, refinery fires and explosions are still far too common in the state of Texas as a whole, and the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CBS) is urging the Texas Railroad Commission to tighten the regulations for safety that is required on all gas and oil production sites in the state. Chairman of the CBS, Rafael Moure-Eraso shares that they are deeply concerned with the safety of the people because of the many accidents that regularly happen on these different sites. Frequently, men and woman (workers and residents of nearby communities) are being injured and killed because of the dangers of the oil and gas industry in their areas.

The CBS specifically states that every location needs to improve and strengthen their safety regulations by doing whatever is necessary to protect the people; focusing specifically on protecting the people in the community. This would include making sure that all sites are properly secured with gates, fencing, and warning signs to prevent access by the people. Sadly, in many rural towns, both adults and teenagers will spend time near these sites because they are secluded and a good place to get away and hang out. over the years many people have been severely injured and killed at sites like these because the locations are not properly restricting access in the surrounding perimeters.

In just the past three years, the CBA has investigated a number of incidents on these types of sites, including a total of 3 fatalities and many injuries. In many cases these accidents happen because the people are not properly warned of the risks near storage tanks; particularly the fact that they can explode by even the smallest of trigger. Because of incidents like these, the CBS has been urging the state to make safety changes since last year; and as of today nothing has yet to be done. Is it the companies fault for the explosions or fires causing injuries and deaths to workers and residents alike? Perhaps, though in some cases perhaps not. If the level of safety regulations is not being adjusted on a state wide level, perhaps the blame goes much farther than that of the company itself. Statistics by the CBS show that between 1983 and 2010, there have been 44 fatalities and 25 reported injuries in 26 different reported accidents similar to those being injured on the surrounding property. These numbers do not include the magnitude of other injuries and deaths caused in refinery accidents as a whole, either. The United Steelworker union shares statistics which show that since 2007, refinery fires have occurred at the average of 41 reported incidents per year.

Industrial plants are a necessary commodity in our society today, as we continue to not only to need supply's to continue running the world as we do today, but also for further innovation. And yet, due to the nature of this industry accidents and subsequent injuries are not a rare happening. Whether you are an industrial worker or a resident in the nearby community, if you or a loved one have been recently injured in an accident of some sort; you may have the option of seeking compensation for your injuries. At Arnold & Itkin LLP we are dedicated members of our community here in Texas and it is our goal to help those who have been wrongfully injured or families who have lost a loved one. We understand the emotional and physical hardships you may be experiencing because of the incident, and we want to help you pursue legal justice to receive monetary compensation so that financial hardship doesn't have to be another struggle you will have on your plate.

If you believe you have been wrongfully injured in any way, contact a trusted industrial injury lawyer at our firm today; we want to fight with you.

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