April 4, 2010 at 12:19 am #2716
Friday, April 2, 2010
Last updated 9:33 p.m. PT
Latest refinery blast brings back unwanted memories
By ERIC NALDER HEARST NEWSPAPERS
Colleen Granfors awoke at 5:30 a.m. Friday, the way she often does.
She hasn’t slept well since the refinery accident that killed her husband in Anacortes a dozen years ago. She flipped on the television the way she always does and saw news of another refinery explosion in the same town. Again there were deaths, the newscaster said.
It jolted her, and it wasn’t just because of the memories.
Her first thought was of her son, and her son-in-law, who both work at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes where her husband was killed. At that point, she didn’t know which refinery was involved. Only when her son called back later did she confirm the explosion and deaths were at Tesoro, the refinery next to the Shell plant.
But that didn’t provide much relief.
“I’m really hurting for the families,” Gransfors said, recovering from tears. “I feel so sad for those families.”
Granfors, who lives in Burlington, immediately called June Dowe in Mount Vernon, whose husband also died in the same 1998 accident at the Shell Refinery.
“We have become very good friends,” Granfors said. “It just brings back a lot of memories.”
Odd parallels came to mind to Granfors, beyond the similar loss of life and the explosion. Both the accident in November 1998, and the one on Friday, occurred just before a holiday. Back then it was Thanksgiving. Now it is Easter.
Ronald J. Granfors, then 49, and Wayne E. Dowe, then 44, were killed during an attempt to open a huge coking drum at the refinery, an investigation would later reveal.
Smoke inhalation and fire killed six men, Granfors, a Shell foreman, Dowe, a refinery operator, and four employees of a contractor, Western Plant Services, David Murdzia, 30, Warren Fry, 50, Theodore Cade, 23 and James Berlin, 38.
In the local history books, the Shell refinery explosion set dubious records.
In May 1999, Equilon Enterprises, the owner of the refinery, and the state Department of Labor and Industries agreed to a record $4.4 million settlement that provided money for a Fallen Worker Scholarship Fund, a Workplace Safety and Health Institute, an independent refinery-wide safety audit and a new fire engine for the city of Anacortes.
In January 2001, shortly before a civil trial was to begin in Skagit County Superior Court, the refinery apologized for the accident and agreed to pay $45 million to the families of the six men who died, and to their attorneys. That, too, was a record at the time. The money that didn’t go to legal costs was placed in a trust fund.
Noted trial attorney Paul Luvera, who grew up in Anacortes, said the accident was caused by haste and shortcuts. A windstorm had cut power to the plant for two hours, which interrupted the refining process. Rather than cool the coking drums properly with water, Luvera said the refinery attempted to use an untested air-cooling process.
“It was costing them a lot of money to have this refinery down and they wanted to get it going again,” said Luvera, whose firm represented the families.
When the drum was opened, the waste inside erupted into a huge burst of flames, which burned or suffocated the men who were attempting to work on it, Luvera said.
Brian Sibley, a spokesman for the Shell Puget Sound Refinery, said since the accident the refinery has installed a robotic arm to allow workers to open drums in the coking unit “from a safe distance away.”
“The refining industry is constantly undergoing upgrades and finding new and better ways to do things,” he said.
“Oil refineries in general are dangerous places, in which safety is extremely important,” said Luvera. “It is unfortunate it takes accidents like this before attention is paid to worker safety.”
Luvera added that the Obama Administration has been far more aggressive ordering safety inspections at refineries that the Bush administration.
“I think it is absolutely undisputed there has been a difference in attitude,” he said.
For the family members who lost loved ones, refinery safety is a very personal thing. The settlement money didn’t heal the loss.
“We lost our family members,” said Kim Hanna, 27, Dowe’s daughter who was a teen-ager just old enough to drive when her dad was killed. “Nothing can replace them.”
Hanna — who works as a bank employee in Mount Vernon where she grew up — said the surviving family members from that accident want family member from this tragedy to know they stand with them. She remembers talking with the counselors provided by the company to soothe her, but “it is kind of hard to talk to someone you don’t know.”
They recalled that the company offered to feed them Thanksgiving dinner at a popular restaurant on the highway between Mount Vernon and Anacortes, but despite “their best intentions, the timing wasn’t good,” she said.
“My heart goes out to them,” she said of the newest set of grieving families. “I know what they are going through.”
April 5, 2010 at 12:01 am #5694
Once again, the liberal media lies through its teeth about how wonderful their hero obama is and how awful their hated villain President George W. Bush was. I know this is not a site for politics, but I can’t help it when they print falsehoods as truth. Anybody who has even a passing knowledge of the refining industry knows that the Bush Administration and the EPA reacted very strongly after the 2005 Texas City explosion and loss of life.
Apparently Mr. Nalder and his superiors at Hearst Newspapers want to perpetuate that old myth that only Democrats care about workers well being and that Republicans are in the pocket of the big oil companies. I hope some other people call them on this crap.
April 5, 2010 at 5:08 pm #5693
Sorry. I posted late last night after a long weekend. I should have said OSHA, not EPA.
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