An Austin freelance photographer shooting pictures of a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, was detained by a BP security officer, local police and a man who said he was representing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to nonprofit news-gathering organization ProPublica.
Lance Rosenfield, who is a trustee of the Austin Center for Photography, said he was confronted by the officials July 2 shortly after arriving in Texas City to work on a story that’s part of an ongoing collaboration between PBS and ProPublica.
The Texas City refinery—the third largest oil refinery in the United States—was the site of a fire and explosion in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170. Citing lax safety at the refinery, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration imposed an $87 million fine against BP.
Currently, the British oil giant is grappling with the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Rosenfield was released after the officials examined the pictures he had taken and jotted down his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information, the photographer said. The information was turned over to the BP security guard, who said this was standard procedure, Rosenfield told ProPublica.
Rosenfield said he was followed by a BP employee after taking a picture on a public road near the refinery, then cornered by two police cars at a gas station. The officials told Rosenfield they had the right to look at the pictures taken near the refinery; if he did not comply, he would be “taken in,” the photographer told ProPublica.
In a statement to ProPublica, BP said:
“BP Security followed the industry practice that is required by federal law. The photographer was released with his photographs after those photos were viewed by a representative of the Joint Terrorism Task Force who determined that the photographer’s actions did not pose a threat to public safety.”
In response to BP, ProPublica’s editor-in-chief, Paul Steiger, said:
“We certainly appreciate the need to secure the nation’s refineries. But we’re deeply troubled by BP’s conduct here, especially when they knew we were working on deadline on critical stories about this very facility. And we see no reason why, if law enforcement needed to review the unpublished photographs, that should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company.”
BP spokeswoman Sheila Williams declined to comment further, according to MSNBC.com.
The 1,200-acre Texas City refinery complex employs more than 2,000 people. Texas City is between Houston and Galveston.
According to Rosenfield’s website, his photography clients include the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.