Message to Tesoro Refinery management: People don't trust you, and they never will if you keep stonewalling.

A pipe ruptured Feb. 12 at the company's refinery near Martinez. Two workers were airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center with first- and second-degree burns from spewing acid. To make matters worse, the pipe came apart in the exact same spot four days later.

Yet, somehow, Tesoro does not consider these serious injuries, wrongly questions the authority of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to investigate and is refusing to cooperate with the agency's probe.

The company, after first granting the federal agency access, has blocked it from returning. When safety board investigators first arrived they found that the company was already altering the accident site, rather than preserving the evidence.

The Golden Eagle refinery owned by Tesoro just east of Martinez, Calif. (Staff archives)
The Golden Eagle refinery owned by Tesoro just east of Martinez, Calif. (Staff archives)

It smells of a horrible cover-up by a company with a long history of safety lapses. It threatens to undermine decades of work in Contra Costa to build trust between the county's refineries, the community and the government agencies responsible for protecting public and worker safety.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health has issued an order barring Tesoro from restarting the failed unit. In it, the agency outlines inadequate protections for workers, employees' fearing for their safety and intimidation by management.

This same refinery was the site of a 1999 accident that killed four workers. While the plant was under different ownership then, Tesoro has had its own problems there and at its Anacortes, Wash., refinery, where seven people were killed.


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At the Contra Costa facility in just one year, 2012, significant incidents included two fires, a sulfuric acid release, a vapor release, and an unspecified leak, according to the Chemical Safety Board.

As for Anacortes, the board concluded in a damning report last month, the fatal explosion and fire there resulted from a "complacent" attitude toward flammable leaks and occasional fires. The board found that Tesoro had failed to correct a history of hazardous conditions.

It's imperative that Tesoro cooperate with the safety board. No other government agency has done, and is doing, such thoughtful and thorough examinations of refinery accidents and the industry's safety practices.

As we saw from its investigation of the 2012 Chevron refinery explosion in Richmond, the safety board provides analysis that is critical to the prevention of future explosions.

People's lives and safety are at stake inside the gates and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Unfortunately, Tesoro's response belies industry claims that it wants to make its plants safer, and that undermines those operators who are making legitimate and serious strides on safety. It is time for a close examination of Tesoro's processes.