TEXAS CITY — With refinery units hissing in the background and a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” more than 150 people marched in front of Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay Refinery Monday night.
The marchers, members of United Steelworkers Union Local 13-1 and their supporters, were there to memorialize those who have died at the Texas City refinery.
Monday was the 10-year anniversary of the isomerization unit explosion that killed 15 and injured more than 170 others at the refinery.
Union members said they were remembering the 15 killed that day and the other 20 people who have died at the refinery since 1980. After each person’s name was read a small white cross was hammered into the ground across the street from the refinery.
“I hope it brings awareness,” Marc Renken said of the march and vigil.
Renken, who has worked at the refinery for nearly 25 years, was a member of the emergency response team at the refinery 10 years ago and he had to help find the dead and injured after the explosion.
Renken said he hoped people would recognize what a dangerous job it can be but that it can be made safer.
While the union was memorializing the death of workers at the refinery, it is also in middle of a strike and contract negotiations with Marathon Petroleum.
Union members have said safety concerns have been a central part of the contract negotiations.
“We come here tonight to remember what happened 10 years ago but we also need to remember what’s happened before and what’s happened after,” said USW Local 13-1 President Lee Medley.
While more than 150 gathered at the union hall in Texas City, Dave Senko stood alone in front of the Jacobs Engineering building in Houston. Senko was the construction manager on the ultracracker turnaround for Jacobs Engineering and its J.E. Merit Constructors division at the BP Texas City site.
Senko supervised 11 of the 15 people killed in the explosions.
“It’s been tough today,” Senko said. “I’ve been trying to keep things as normal as possible by trying to be distracted, but I keep being reminded of that day.”
Senko, who is still an industrial construction manager, left Jacobs soon after a memorial plaque and pear tree were planted to mark the one-year anniversary. He was surprised that no one else was at the memorial when he arrived not long before the moment a series of explosions ripped through the Texas City refinery.
“I was shocked that we have come to that stage in the company - where most of the fatalities occurred - that while nothing may have been forgotten, those who died were not recognized,” Senko said.
Calls to Jacobs Engineering’s corporate offices in California where not returned.
Senko ended his day with a visit to the gravesite of Art Ramos, one of the 15 killed. He was a manager for Senko on the BP project.
“Art was a seasoned hand that did an excellent job using his people skills to persuade a high focus on quality,” Senko said. “He was an ex medic in Vietnam who was interested in helping people and standing up for what was right.”