As reported earlier, an explosion at the Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes killed four people and sent three others to Harborview. The company just released the names of the victims--Daniel Aldridge, Matt Bowen, Darrin Hoines, and Kathryn Powell--saying "our hearts share your loss and our prayers are with you at this time of grief."
The work here might be dangerous and produce a toxic product, but Tesoro doesn't think it should pay higher taxes for it.
But Tesoro, and indeed the oil industry as a whole, has a history of safety and environmental problems. And this latest disaster looks especially bad as Tesoro has spent the last few months leading the fight against legislation in Olympia that would increase what it pays in taxes for making money off of hazardous substances--specifically oil--in this state. Money raised by the tax hike would pay for pollution clean-up projects.
"Big oil" is oft-vilified by environmentalists. And for good reason--like coal it is dirty and unsafe. The Seattle Times reports today that the state Department of Labor and Industries fined Tesoro, based in San Antonio, $85,700 last year after inspectors found 17 safety violations at the Anacortes refinery. The Times' story includes a grim list of oil-industry-related deaths in the state dating back to 1998 when six men died in a fire at the Equilon Puget Sound refinery, also in Anacortes.
Adding to the safety concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency filed suit against Tesoro last month for failing to adequately test whether or not its gasoline includes potentially harmful pollutants in violation of the Clean Air Act.
"Our thoughts and prayers really just go out to the families of the workers at the Tesoro plant," says Environmental Priorities Coalition spokesperson Nicole Fallat, almost immediately, when asked about the tragedy. EPC represents 25 Northwest green-minded organizations pushing the hazardous substances tax hike in Olympia. Fallat is extremely hesitant to talk about the coalition's battle with Tesoro over the bill. After all, nobody wants to be accused of playing politics with a tragedy.
But People for Puget Sound spokesperson Mike Sato expands on Fallat's comments slightly. He says his group recognizes that refineries aren't going away (according to the federal Energy Information Agency, Washingtonians consume 146 million barrels of oil each year), which is why PPS continues to push for the tax hike. He notes that the bill is still alive in the current special session.
In the meantime, various state and federal agencies have landed in Anacortes to investigate the accident. State Department of Ecology spokesperson Katie Skipper says that preliminary reports show no oil leaking into the surrounding water. But she adds that more thorough investigations won't start until everyone is sure its safe to enter the site.