Oil Refinery Fined for Toxic Release


In what a state-run safety agency has said is the most recent of mounting complaints and violations against a refinery, Shell Oil Products is facing $77,000 in fines for an uncontrolled toxic release.

The Washington state Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) issued the fines along with citations for one willful-serious and one serious violation on Nov. 10.

According to an agency statement released Nov. 20, the oil company’s Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes released contaminants into the environment by way of its main flare in February. The agency said the company knowingly failed to follow safe working practices when it shut down its flare and gave employees the incorrect procedure for doing so.

Current Citations

It’s the second time in the past two years that the refinery has been charged with a violation involving its main flare. In 2013, the agency said it cited Shell Oil for missing “critical steps” when shutting down the flare. In that case, L&I said, an explosion could have injured employees and contractors at the site.

In the most recent case, L&I cited Shell Oil Products $70,000 in what the agency classified as a willful-serious violation for telling workers to deviate from decontamination steps when shutting down its East Flare. As a result, the agency said the flare released toxins into the environment, including mercaptans; hydrogen sulfide; hydrocarbons; and pyrophoric iron.

Had an explosion occurred as a result of skipping the decontamination steps, workers could have faced permanent disability or death, the agency said.

In addition to the willful-serious violation, L&I cited the oil company $7,000 for one serious violation for training workers to use the wrong revision when shutting down the flare.

Previous Violations

The agency also said several complaints during the past three years have led to 11 inspections at the Puget Sound Refinery.

A review of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s inspection data revealed that L&I has fined Shell Oil Products more than $150,000—including the recent citations—for serious, repeat and other-than-serious violations since 2012.

L&I is one of several state-run agencies that are permitted under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Under the law, a state agency must adhere to citations and penalties that are at least as stringent as those given by OSHA. OSHA also administers inspection databases for the state agencies.

Shell Oil Products had 15 business days from the date it received the citations to pay the fines or appeal, the agency said.


Tagged categories: Citations; Ethics; Government; Health and safety; North America; Oil and Gas; OSHA; OSHA; Quality Control; Safety; Violations

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