Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A clear crisp day in March is forever burned into my memory, and the collective memory of many in Texas City. Everyone will remember what they were doing and where they were when they heard, felt, or saw the explosion. I will always remember standing in my kitchen, clinging to my ailing grandmother as the pressure wave slammed into my parents’ house. Little did I know it at the time that very sound was the sound of 15 souls being taken. No amount of money will bring back those people who were lost, nor will it ease the pain of such a tremendous loss.
Last month, as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration handed down its judgment to BP. They would have to pay $21.36 million in fines in addition to willful health and safety violations. A majority of the fine is related to egregious willful violations. That is, those things that were preventable, but were never remedied to begin with. The question remains now, can BP change?
The short answer is yes, but how? BP took its first steps toward saving face by moving all non-essential contract employees into a centralized location. No longer will contract workers have to labor in trailers where they are susceptible to the dangers of a pressure wave. Instead, they will now work in a building once occupied by K-Mart. BP has also taken other measures.
In May, shortly after the blast, BP’s Texas City refinery changed managers. Colin Maclean was brought in to turn the facility around in order to make it safer. Maclean was the man behind the turn around at BP’s troubled Grangemouth complex. While his plans look good on paper, it’s hard to say how well they’ll be implemented at the Texas City facility. It’s hard to implement change after things have been done the same way for so long.
The US Chemical Safety Board, the principal investigator, recommended that BP appoint a panel to review its safety procedures in August. The company has responded by appointing the panel. BP hired former secretary of state James Baker to head the panel. Joining him on the panel will be members of both the private and public sector. Hopefully, this help from the outside can solve some of the problems within BP.
The CSB is due to release its initial findings October 27th. I can only imagine what will be in this report, but the board will not be as lenient as OSHA has been in the past. The full extent of just what went wrong may not be known for a while, but at least they have made progress. The investigation could lead to possible criminal charges against those at BP. Maybe then those who lost loved ones will feel justice really has been served.
As for me, my sense of security has been forever shattered. Never can I go back home again without thinking about that fateful day. Each time I look at the skyline of my hometown, I will always ask myself, when will it happen again? I feel that while BP has taken small steps toward improvement, they have tarnished their image. People will never be able to trust BP again as they have demonstrated once again that the only thing that matters to them is their bottom line. Worker safety has always taken a back seat to company profits, but this tragedy may change that. Only time will tell for sure if it does.

The Plague

A plague has spread across the Asphalt Jungle. Nearly everyone I have run into has this disease. Even I’ve gotten it, but I’ve had it longer, and it isn’t easy to get rid of. Yes, once again baseball fever has spread across the Asphalt Jungle. Houston’s beloved Astros baseball team is in the post-season fray once again. Every year, die-hard Astros fans say, maybe next year. They’ve said it over and over again, but never have they made it.

The beginning of the Astros’ season was less than spectacular No one thought they’d make it this year. Last year’s run ended against St. Louis in a game 7 heartbreaker. This year looked like it would end in yet another disappointment with the Astros’ early exit However, they proved skeptics wrong once again.

Most baseball fans say the season really doesn’t start until after the all star break. See, most teams get comfortable in their first place standings and get lazy after the break. They figure they’ve got it made sitting atop their division. Major League Baseball has made the game more interesting in recent years with the wild card spot. This is for the also-rans. The teams that were good enough to stay in the running throughout the season. For the last two years, the Astros were the wild card winner.

Wild card teams in recent history have made their way as far as the World Series, and have even won. Many hoped that the Astros would be one of those teams last year, but alas, those hopes were dashed. Once again, die-hard fans, myself included, said maybe next year. I watched the scores, caught a game when I could. Even I had my doubts at first, but then things turned around.

The Astros started playing like their old selves again. They even threatened to get within spitting distance of their Central Division rivals the St. Louis Cardinals. The real season began and the Astros looked like they might make it. Then, they goofed and lost crucial games, putting them out of the running for the division title. So began the run for the Wild Card spot.

There were a few bumps along the road, including a near sweep by the Cubs at the end of the season. Once again, the baseball gods smiled upon Houston and they had their ticket punched for another shot at the title. Despite numerous personal setbacks among the team, including the loss of Roger Clemens’ mother, the Astros persevered.

As always, the road to the World Series went through Atlanta. In years past, the Braves sent Houston packing. Year after year, they were eliminated by Atlanta. Last year, Houston saw some chinks in the armor and took advantage of Atlanta. This year was no different, and it was on to St. Louis for a rematch of last year’s championship series. The Astros looked like they would falter once again after another heartbreaking loss in game four.

Then, in game five, they bounced back as if nothing had happened. All the mistakes of the past had been erased in one fell swoop. Those who’d called the Astros a team of destiny my have been right for once. Houston once again made sports history. One of the teams to go the longest without a World Series appearance at 44 years, not to mention the 18-inning nail biter against Atlanta that catapulted them into the NLCS.

So the Astros are once again in a familiar place. Down three games in the best of seven in the World Series. Everyone in Houston “bee-lieves” the Astros can do it; a reference to the Astros’ lineup of what’s become known as the Killer B’s. I “bee-lieve” they will make it, and I’m behind my team all the way win or lose. Hopefully I won’t find myself saying maybe next year at the end of this series.