The Perils of “Shoddy Maintenance” for Power Plants

power plant maintenance

Last fall, a legal battle was initiated when a unit of Marathon Petroleum Corp. sued BP subsidiaries over alleged “shoddy maintenance,” as reported by Industry Week.

The charges? According to Marathon, BP failed to adequately maintain and repair a refinery in Texas City before selling it to Marathon for $2.5 billion in 2013. Repairs were left unfinished, the general condition of the refinery was subpar, and BP allegedly lied about inspections.

This was a problem because in the sale agreement, BP promised to ensure the refinery was in full compliance with all pertinent regulations. The actual result, though, was anything but satisfactory; according to Marathon’s lawsuit, thousands of critical components went untested and many key components weren’t in compliance.

Key safety systems were also out of code, a point Marathon made sure to make in its suit.

The damages sought by Marathon were undisclosed, and it’s unclear what has happened in the case since October. But the case is a good lesson for plant owners who either want to stay in compliance with regulations or one day sell their facility to others – and avoid a nasty legal battle.

The key to the lesson is this: ongoing maintenance is always less expensive – especially once you factor in legal bills – than emergency repairs after damage has already been done.

Besides financial issues, though, there is another key lesson: safety. A plant that isn’t properly maintained and kept in code is a safety hazard. Case in point: the Texas City refinery at the heart of the Marathon/BP lawsuit has a track record of disaster due to faulty procedures and improper maintenance.

In 2010, nearly 50,000 residents around the refinery sued BP after a heavy, 45-day-long release of toxic gas allegedly impacted their health. In 2005, an explosion resulted in the deaths of 15 workers. One can assume that some of the safety issues experienced in Texas City stemmed, in part, at least, from shoddy maintenance.

The cost of a rigorous, well-oiled, ongoing maintenance program pales in comparison to the very real costs of going without one, once you factor in regulatory penalties and fines, inferior performance, suboptimal processes, and legal warfare. And yet, many plant owners either downplay power plant maintenance or cut corners, assuming that all maintenance programs are essentially the same.

Not every issue will result in what was assuredly a lawsuit worth well over seven figures. But the stakes can be just as high for any size plant, because any issue that arises hurts a plant’s bottom line. Protecting the bottom line, protecting a plant’s workers, and protecting the community in which a plant operates are all reasons why “shoddy maintenance” should never happen.