The oil company BP recently settled a seven-year dispute over the extent to which a terminal in Maryland was prepared for major spills. That terminal, near the Chesapeake Bay, holds 22 million gallons of oil.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department fined the company $210,000 for woefully inadequate response times during exercises. The fine is the nation’s highest for violations in which no oil was discharged.
The penalty sends a message about the need for better emergency training industry-wide, while requiring BP to improve procedures for spill exercises at its own terminals. Both should provide a greater margin of protection for Lake Erie and other area waterways,
A company spokesman says BP has a spill-response brigade assigned to this region, with boats, containment boom, and other equipment. BP trains here monthly from April through September, often with the Coast Guard.
Yet the Maryland case is another sign that BP remains on the regulatory hot seat, two years after its disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill and five years after a federal panel demanded safety reforms at its domestic refineries, including the BP-Husky facility in Oregon.
In 2007, a federal panel concluded that BP’s Toledo-area refinery had problems of safety oversight that were at least as bad as those at its refinery in Texas City, Texas. A 2005 explosion at the latter facility killed 15 people and injured 170 others in one of the nation’s worst industrial accidents.
When oil companies are involved, regulators must expect the unexpected. The stakes are too high to condone inadequate training, for spills or safety.
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