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New Tesoro Chief to Face Refinery Blast Probes

SAN ANTONIO -- When Gregory Goff takes over as Tesoro Corp.'s chief executive May 1, he will face a wave of state and federal investigations following the worst industrial accident in the oil refiner's history, according to a Bloomberg News report.

A chemical explosion Friday killed five at Tesoro's Anacortes, Wash., plant, intensifying safety concerns among federal investigators about the nation's refiners. Two employees of the plant remain hospitalized in critical condition, according to a spokeswoman at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.

The April 2 blast triggered the second federal investigation in six months of Tesoro, the biggest independent refiner on the U.S. West Coast. The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent U.S. federal agency, is investigating an Oct. 21 fire at the company's Salt Lake City plant, Bloomberg News reported.

Goff, 53, will be tested in his ability to manage the company's seven refineries, as well as its relationship with federal authorities, said John Parry, vice president of IHS Herold Inc., a consulting firm in Norwich, Conn. "He has more of a mandate to make some changes and shake things up," Parry said. "This particular Congress and administration has made clear that they're going to take regulating the oil industry more seriously."

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, and the state's Ecology Department are investigating the Anacortes explosion, Tesoro said.

The additional scrutiny of San Antonio-based Tesoro comes days after the company named a successor to retiring Chief Executive Officer Bruce Smith. Goff, formerly a senior vice president at Houston-based ConocoPhillips, was selected after a seven-month search. He previously managed ConocoPhillips's refineries in Asia and Europe and most recently focused on supplies and trading of refined products and crude oil.

Goff couldn't be reached for comment. "Mr. Goff is not yet an employee of the company so it would not be appropriate for him to be involved at this point," Tesoro spokesman Lynn Westfall said in an e-mailed statement. "We intend to fully cooperate with all agency investigations to bring about a thorough analysis of the incident."

The Tesoro explosion had the most recorded fatalities at a refinery since 15 workers were killed in a 2005 blast at a Texas City, Texas, plant owned by London-based BP Plc.

The chemical safety board's investigation into the 2005 BP explosion prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, to start a nationwide "emphasis program" on inspecting refineries. OSHA last month proposed a $3.04 million fine for safety violations at BP and Husky Energy Inc.'s Toledo, Ohio, refinery.

Tesoro's Anacortes refinery was inspected by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, the state's equivalent of OSHA. The plant was cited for 17 "serious" violations last year from the state agency. Of those violations, 14 were dismissed during settlement negotiations, and fines were reduced to $12,250 from an initial $85,700 penalty, according to the Bloomberg News report.

As part of the settlement, Tesoro agreed to have safety consultants review the plant. AcuTech Group Inc. started its review of the refinery's operations in March, said Hector Castro, a spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industries.

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