SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — An oil refinery in New Mexico will pay a $400,000 fine in a settlement over safety violations stemming from an explosion that killed two employees and injured two others in 2010, authorities said Friday.
The New Mexico Environment Department and Navajo Refining of Artesia entered a settlement agreement for citations issued by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The explosion occurred on March 2, 2010, when employees of Northwest Insulation of Texas were performing welding operations on top of a storage tank at the refinery in the southeastern New Mexico community of Artesia. A welder ignited vapors from flammable liquids within the tank, according to investigators.
The resulting explosion ripped open the top of the tank. The ensuing fire burned for more than an hour before it was extinguished.
Authorities said all four victims were Northwest employees and the two workers killed were Texas men.
OSHA officials said Navajo Refining doesn't admit fault, but agreed to settle for the fine. A call to Navajo Refinery's parent company in Dallas for comment wasn't immediately returned Friday.
"The hazards of welding on or near petroleum storage tanks, as well as methods for preventing associated accidents, are well known within the industry," Robert Genoway, acting bureau chief for New Mexico OSHA, said in a statement. "This type of hazard has resulted in far too many inexcusable accidents and deaths in New Mexico and nationwide."
New Mexico OSHA cited both Navajo Refining and Northwest Insulation for violations that included failing to properly inspect the work area prior to welding, failing to instruct employees on methods for determining the presence of flammables, and permitting the employees to weld in an area where flammable liquids and vapors were present.
The state's case against Northwest was settled in January 2011. Both companies have provided documentation of actions taken to abate all violations.
The refinery is subject to a follow-up inspection.