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Originally published February 9, 2011 at 1:17 PM | Page modified February 9, 2011 at 3:01 PM

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Families of killed workers sue Tesoro over Anacortes refinery blast

Families of six workers killed in an explosion at Tesoro's Anacortes oil refinery last year filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Wednesday, claiming the company deliberately ignored dangerous conditions that led to the blast.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Families of six workers killed in an explosion at Tesoro's Anacortes oil refinery last year filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Wednesday, claiming the company deliberately ignored dangerous conditions that led to the blast.

The explosion last April killed seven workers. Families of six of the slain workers have joined the lawsuit, along with a contractor who was burned but survived.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday morning in Skagit County Superior Court, according to David Beninger, a Seattle attorney representing the families.

"It's really about getting full accountability, by finding out exactly what happened, how it happened and how we can keep it from happening again," Beninger said.

The lawsuit accuses Tesoro of failing to inspect decaying equipment and ignoring industry safety standards and federal laws governing refinery safety.

The Anacortes explosion was the worst refinery accident in the nation since 2005, when an explosion at BP's plant in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 people and injured 180.

In October, Tesoro was assessed a record $2.39 million fine by the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). Tesoro appealed the fine last month to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.

Investigators for L&I determined the accident was entirely preventable.

The lawsuit echoes that finding, saying Tesoro had failed to inspect the 40-year-old heat exchanger that ruptured and spewed vapor and liquid, igniting a fire and explosion.

For years, the exchanger had leaked volatile gases when it was brought back on line after maintenance.

Instead of properly repairing or replacing the unit, Tesoro simply stationed workers nearby to disperse the dangerous vapors, according to the lawsuit and the L&I probe. On April 2, 2010, the material ignited and killed the nearby workers.

Mike Marcy, a spokesman for Tesoro, said he had not seen the lawsuit and it was the company's long-standing policy not to comment on litigation.

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Tesoro, based in San Antonio, Texas, is one of the country's largest oil-refining companies. It owns seven refineries in the U.S.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages on behalf of the families of the killed workers and the injured contractor.

Named in the lawsuit are Tesoro, its Anacortes refinery, and three refinery managers: Don Sorrenson, Bill Reitzel and Dennis Cross.

Also named are two contractors that did welding and inspection work at the refinery, as well as Shell Oil, the previous owner of the refinery.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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