Tag Archives: Norman Wei

A new beginning for BP?

BP has a new CEO today.

A few days ago, BP signed a Consent Decree with the Department of Justice and agreed to pay $13 million for various Risk Management Plan violations under the Clean Air Act at its Texas City refinery. If you recall, there was a major incident at that refinery back in March of 2005 where 15 people were killed.

Thus far, BP has paid $137 million in fines which includes $50.61 million to OSHA for Failure to Abate violations under OSHA’s Process Safety Management standards. It has also spent $1.4 billion in corrective action. The OSHA fine is the largest fine in OSHA’s history.

BP conducted many internal environmental and safety audits before the March 2005 incident. Many safety and environmental issues were raised but little or no action was taken – according to the Chemical Safety Board investigators.

An expensive lesson learned?

EPA’s Tailoring Rule on Greenhouse Gas

EPA issued its final rule on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on June 3, 2010. Under this rule, GHG will be regulated in two phases under the Clean Air Act.

Phase 1 will go from January 2, 2011 to June 30, 2011. If you are currently under a PSD permit (Prevention of Significant deterioration) and you emit more than 75,000 tpy of GHG, you will need to use Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to control you GHG emission.

Phase 2 goes into effect July 1, 2011 and ends on June 30, 2013. PSD permits will apply to new construction projects that emit more than 100,000 tpy of GHG. Modifications at existing facilities  that exceed 75,000 tpy of GHG will be subject to PSD requirements. Also if you emit more than 100,000 tpy of GHG, you will need to get a Title V permit!

Of course – this is America. So expect lawsuits to be filed against EPA on this final rule.

GHG is defined to include CO2, CH4, HFCs, PFCs, and SF6. For a complete set of the Tailoring Rule, click here. There is also a pretty interesting article in Pollution Engineering Magazine on this topic written by my fellow contributing editor Lynn Bergeson.

We have 2-day environmental regulations seminars scheduled in Florida (Fort Myers and Orlando), California (Santa Ana and San Francisco), Nevada (Las Vegas), Georgia (Atlanta), Texas (Houston), New Jersey (Newark) and Virginia (Virginia Beach). For our latest 2010/2011 environmental seminar schedule, click here.

Writing your Audit Report

There is a disturbing trend in corporate America these days. Many reports are presented in the form of a PowerPoint presentation with 10 or more dreaded bullet points per slide.

If you are thinking of presenting your audit report in one of those awful PowerPoint presentations, DON’T!

Always present your audit results in a concise (not truncated bullet points) written format with full sentences. Why? Because you want your readers to understand your findings and do something about them.

A bunch of truncated and abbreviated bullet points will put your audience before you in a coma and when those awful bullet points are passed on down to the people who will be implementing your recommendations, they will not understand them.

Read this blog I wrote awhile back on presentations.

Key Elements of an Effective Environmental Management System

In its “Compliance-focused Environmental Management System-enforcement Agreement Guidance” document dated December 2001, EPA outlines the 12 elements of an effective environmental management system.

The US EPA model includes 12 elements which are summarized below:

  1. Environmental policy.
  2. Organization, personnel and oversight of EMS
  3. Accountability and responsibility
  4. Environmental requirements
  5. Assessment, prevention and control
  6. Environmental incident and noncompliance investigations
  7. Environmental training, awareness and competence
  8. Environmental planning and organizational decision-making
  9. Maintenance of records and documentation
  10. Pollution prevention
  11. Continuing program evaluation and improvement
  12. Public involvement and community outreach.

Of all these 12 key elements, three of them are paramount. The first one is accountability. For an EMS to be effective it must have accountability. There must be a system within which bad behaviors by employees are penalized and environmentally proactive actions are rewarded. Without accountability on both end of the spectrum, employees may falsify reports due to fear of management retribution. There would be no incentive for employees to identify environmental problems and suggest solutions.

The second key element of an EMS is program evaluation and improvement. An effective EMS must provide for periodic independent auditing of environmental functions with well defined procedures to correct any deficiencies that are uncovered in the audit. It is pointless to go through an elaborate auditing process if there’s not going to be a well -defined set of procedures to follow through with remedial actions. Without follow through, the audit would just be a meaningless paper exercise. Read my earlier post on what happens when you fail to implement your own audit findings. By the way – do not use audits to establish an attorney-client privileged condition in order to hide environmental noncompliance. This will not work since only the actual audit report itself is protected under attorney-client privilege and not the underlying facts.

The third major key element is thorough investigation of any environmental incident in a timely manner. An effective EMS should immediately trigger a thorough investigation when an environmental incident occurs. Such investigation should be designed to find the root causes of the incident and to demonstrate promptness and completeness in your responses to the incident.

One last point:  Whatever environmental management system you may use, it needs to be enforced by management at all levels. Like all environmental plans, your EMS must be performance-based. Having a well written EMS document is just a start. It is meaningless if it is not communicated to all your employees and enforced throughout the organization.

The Importance of Internal Environmental Audits

It is always good environmental management practice to have regularly scheduled internal audits. The main purpose of such audit is to uncover small or emerging environmental problems and correct them BEFORE they become costly or deadly ones.

On September 22, 2003, BP’s EHS team conducted an internal environmental and safety audit at its Texas City refinery. The report is entitled “Getting HSE Right”. The Executive Summary has become a public document.

The audit team reported the following significant gaps:

  1. The “checkbook mentality”, blame, and status culture still exists throughout most of the Texas City Site; and this limits HSE and general performance.
  2. The condition of infrastructure and assets is poor at the Texas City Site
  3. The audit team is concerned there are insufficient resources to achieve all commitments and goals.
  4. Leadership has not embedded or enrolled the Texas City Site organization in high performance execution.

One of the team’s recommendations to management was to “accept zero tolerance for exceptions to BP (global and local) HSE standards”.

On March 23, 2005 at 1:20 pm – 18 months after the audit report was submitted to senior management – there was an explosion at the same refinery and 15 persons were killed and 180 injured.

Could this incident have been prevented had BP management accepted the findings and recommendations of its own internal audit report?

More lessons from the BP oil Spill

The CEO of BP Oil went before Congress today and testified under oath. For most of the time, he was bobbing and weaving trying to avoid admitting errors – for obvious legal liability reasons. However, there was one statement he made that has a lot of bearing on what we are going to discuss here. He said that accidents happen for two reasons: equipment failure and poor human judgment. That is absolutely TRUE!

So how do we avoid accidents?

To avoid or greatly minimize equipment failure, we need to design the equipment under worst case scenarios. We also need to have a backup system when the “fail-safe” equipment fails. The BP CEO actually said that his “ultimate fail-safe equipment” failed – which lead to the oil spill. Note that there was no relief well designed as part of the deep water well system. That’s why BP is now drilling two relief wells to kill the blown-out well but that won’t be completed until August – 4 months after the blowout and millions of gallons of oil spilled!!!

To combat error in human judgment, the following need to be in place. Employees must receive adequate training to do the job. They must know what to do in case of emergency. The emergency response plan must be realistic and specific to the worst case scenario. It must also be specific to the facility – none of this cut-and-paste stuff. Finally, the management/bonus/reward structure must be designed to discourage corner cutting.

So keep all of this in mind when you prepare your next SPCC plan, your RCRA Contingency Plan and your storm watre pollution prevention plan.

Equipment failure and human error!

When do you need to clean up a chemical spill?

People often ask when do they need to initiate cleanup of a chemical spill. When they have a chemical spill, do they have to clean it up immediately?

The simple answer is yes. You need to clean it up as soon as possible. If you fail to clean up your spill promptly and the chemical you spill is a hazardous waste (it exhibits one or more of the hazardous waste characteristics or it is a listed waste), EPA will consider your site to be a hazardous waste disposal site and you will be subject to all the permitting requirements of a RCRA facility.

In other words, you can be cited for operating a RCRA Treatment and Storage Disposal Facility without a permit!

The agency is pretty clean on that. Just read its guidance document RO 12748 in RCRA Online.