Washington's Department of Labor and Industries on Wednesday fined Shell Oil $109,600 for multiple safety violations in its Anacortes refinery..

Share story

Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries on Wednesday fined Shell Oil $109,600 for multiple safety violations in its Anacortes refinery.

The refinery, the second largest of the four major facilities that supply the Puget Sound region with gasoline and other petroleum products, was cited for 23 violations ranging from inadequately instructing operators on how to deal with emergencies to faulty inspections.

The state’s investigation is part of a national inspection program in the wake of a lethal explosion at BP’s Texas City plant in 2005.

Some of the violations were corrected at the time of the inspection, said Labor and Industries spokeswoman Elaine Fischer. The rest would have to be corrected by Friday unless the company files for an extension, Fischer said. The company has until Tuesday to pay the fine or appeal the findings.

Shell, a unit of Anglo-Dutch oil conglomerate Royal Dutch Shell, is reviewing the citation, said Shell spokesman Brian Sibley. Shutting down the operation is “highly unlikely,” he said.

Shell’s Anacortes refinery, which employs 400 people and several hundred contractors, daily processes 145,000 barrels of crude into gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel, bunker oil and other products. Any hiccups on its production rate could make local gasoline prices rise, as Western Washington has no pipeline connections to the nation’s main refining hubs in the Midwest and the Texas Gulf Coast.

At the same time, a series of accidents — highlighted by the Texas City explosion that killed 15 employees and injured 170 — has drawn increasing scrutiny of the nation’s aging refinery network. Some critics say that despite reaping record profits from high oil prices, refiners are not investing enough in keeping their facilities safe. Last year, fires at Chevron’s Richmond, Calif., refinery and at a Valero facility in Texas helped drive gasoline prices to record heights.

“In the citations that I have seen from a number of other refineries around the country, the issues that were cited do not differ from the underlying causes of the accidents that we saw in Texas City,” said Kim Nibarger, health and safety specialist for United Steelworkers, which represents workers in the petrochemical sector, among other industries.

Washington state also has been deeply scarred by accidents in its energy infrastructure.

A blast killed six workers at Shell’s Anacortes refinery in 1998, but “since that time the safety record has been really good,” said Sibley.

In 1999, a year after the Anacortes refinery incident, a gasoline pipeline owned by Olympic Pipeline blew up in Bellingham, killing two 10-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man and injuring eight people.

Labor and Industries’ investigation was conducted by a team of officers who visited the refinery two days a week for two months, the agency said.

The region’s other three major refineries also will be inspected as part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Emphasis Program, but no date has been specified yet, Fischer said.

Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com