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NM Refinery to Pay $400K in Fatal Blast

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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A New Mexico oil refinery will pay a record $400,000 fine for a 2010 explosion and blaze that killed two employees and seriously injured two others who were working on a storage tank at the facility.

New Mexico’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration had originally imposed a $707,000 fine for one serious and 10 willful violations in the case.

On Friday (Oct. 26), however, New Mexico Environment Department announced that it had entered into a settlement agreement with the refinery for the citations.

Storage tank burns at Navajo Oil Refinery
Tyler Green /

Firefighters tackle the blaze that erupted after the top of a storage tank exploded at the Navajo Oil Refinery in 2010. Two workers died, and two were severely injured.

The settlement deletes all of the willful violations—OSHA’s highest level of infraction—and resolves the case with five serious violations.

No Liability

The $400,000 fine is the highest penalty ever collected by New Mexico OSHA, but Navajo Refining admits no wrongdoing in the case, officials said.

“New Mexico OSHA is committed to ensuring safe workplaces for employees,” said Butch Tongate, Deputy Secretary of the Environment Department. “We will continue working with employers within the oil, gas and refining industries to prevent these types of tragic accidents from endangering the lives of workers.”

In a separate case, the refinery was cited for one other-than-serious and eight serious violations in December 2007 and paid an $11,250 fine.

Explosion and Fire

The accident occurred when four employees of Northwest Insulation of Texas were performing welding operations on top of a storage tank at the refinery.

The four victims had just finished lunch that day and were resuming work when a welder ignited vapors from flammable liquids within the tank. The resulting explosion ripped open the top of the tank, and the ensuing fire burned for more than an hour before the refinery’s fire brigade extinguished it.

The deceased workers were Natividad Andajo of Odessa, TX, and Victor Villa of Midland, TX.

Navajo Oil Refinery
Tyson Jerry / YouTube

The fine in the case set a state record, but HollyFrontier admitted no wrongdoing.

New Mexico OSHA cited both Navajo Refining and Northwest Insulation for violations that included failing to properly inspect the work area before welding, failing to instruct employees on methods for determining the presence of flammables, and allowing employees to weld in an area where flammable liquids and vapors were present.

The state’s case against Northwest was settled in January 2011.

“Both companies have provided documentation of actions taken to abate all violations, and the refinery is subject a follow-up inspection to verify continued correction,” New Mexico’s Environment Department said in a release.

Hot Work Dangers

“The hazards of welding on or near petroleum storage tanks, as well as methods for preventing associated accidents, are well known within the industry,” said Robert Genoway, Acting Bureau Chief for New Mexico OSHA. “This type of hazard has resulted in far too many inexcusable accidents and deaths in New Mexico and nationwide.”

“Hot work” such as welding, grinding and similar activities in facilities that generate combustible vapors has become an increasing source of injuries and deaths in recent years. In April, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a safety video called Hot Work: Hidden Dangers that details a similar disaster that occurred at a DuPont facility near Buffalo, NY.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Fire; Oil and Gas; Tanks and vessels

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