Photog detained by cops and BP security guard in Texas


A freelance photographer who was taking pictures of a BP refinery in Texas was detained by a BP security official, local police and a man claiming to be with the Department of Homeland Security, according to nonprofit news org ProPublica. The photographer was working on a story about multiple large toxic releases at the BP refinery which happened just before the big Gulf oil blowout. From NBC News:

The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said he was confronted by the officials shortly after arriving in Texas City, Texas, to work on a story that is part of an ongoing collaboration between PBS and ProPublica.

Rosenfield was released after officials looked through the pictures he had taken and took 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, ProPublica quoted Rosenfield as saying.

Rosenfield, a Texas-based freelance photographer, said he was followed by a BP employee after taking a picture on a public road near the refinery, and 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 and if he did not comply he would be "taken in," the photographer said according to ProPublica.

Photographer detained by police, BP employee near refinery (NBC Field Notes)

Image: The BP refinery in Texas City, one of the largest in the country, is nearly two square miles. (Lance Rosenfield)


  1. I bet this kind of harassment is why other photographers are forced to fake oil spill pictures on the shores of Lake Michigan.

  2. There is a very good reason to be monitoring that site. The Texas city refinery was the site of a massive explosion that killed nearly a hundred people I think around 2003? 2004? I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but it was a textbook case in corporate mismanagement, shoddy safety procedures and poor training. I say textbook because it literally was for me – in my senior chemical engineering classes, I had to study the incident not once but twice: once for a general safety overview and ethical discussion, and another time for a detailed examination of the control systems failures.

    Texas city is a dangerous plant. People have died there almost every year since 1990. It operates on equipment from the 1950s and is still in the process of being fully within compliance with Federal environmental and OSHA regulations.

    My professors claimed in those classes (not a year ago, in fact) that in the wake of those accidents BP became an industry leader in safety. I didn’t trust him at the time – even among the chemical engineers, BP, despite all of its bs greenwashing, was always The Man – and it seems events have proven me right.

  3. IMHO, this is just going too far. taking pictures of a military base getting this kind of harassment from civil/gov’t authorities is one thing, but i take offense to our government working to aid in censorship of public monitoring of corporate practices.

    i don;t give a crap if it;s all nice and legal due to whatever gov’t mandates… it just isn’t right (IMdumbarseO).

  4. People in the US just hand over their Social Security numbers when some random security person comes up to them???

    1. There was a police officer there too, not just a security guard. The SSN was given to the officer, and the officer gave it to the BP security guy.

  5. You know, it’s like BP wants to be the worst company in the world. What’s next, they hire a Bond villain to be the next CEO? Maybe they could corner the market in oil skimmers and sand berm technology and then just start blowing up every offshore platform there is.

  6. This is not about BP. There are lots of refineries in that area and taking photos there immediately makes you a Taliban. It is well known to all Texas cops and secret DHS agents that frequent the area that anyone with a big DSLR or any kind of pro looking equipment and tripod is a terrorist. They have lots of experience in those matters and they know that is how terrorists do.
    People with 5,8 or 12 megapixel camera phones and point and shoot shirt pocket zoom cams are never a threat to national security that is a well known fact.

    This is about photographers being terrorists.

  7. The Texas City plant is an ARCO plant that BP acquired as part of the purchase or ARCO. I used to work on training videos there in the early 90’s. We typically used the plant scenes as what not to do.

  8. This happened to a client of mine. He was down in Texas on business, and thought some footage of a plant like this is always good to have as stock video (had a little HDD camera). He had local police Homeland, and the FBI on the side of the highway, almost shit his pants at how much trouble they said he COULD be in.. . and then 3 hours later (with his cab driver also detained) they let him go with a warning. Cost him $300 extra for the cab and a missed flight home.

    Ok… so. can you stand at the side of the road and just LOOK at the thing? What if you don’t photograph it, but make a crude painting? How much detail does it need to contain before it’s confiscated ? (“You use that orange paint to denote a natural gas burn off valve, and I’ll arrest you for Terrorism!!”).

    How about stand with your back to the plant, so you can’t even see it.

    The law needs ‘tests’ like these.

  9. Devils Advocate here: You know, there is a whole lot of conventionally-targetable economically critical infrastructure in a small area, and your tax dollars pay for someone to protect it. Sometimes too much so, but really, this is not a huge deal. “this will go down on your permanent record” is right, and if I were there to prove a point then I surely hope that it would.

  10. I always thought that total Capitalism is same as Communism.

    The only reason is that in Communism government suppresses citizens and in Capitalism corporations does it.

    There must be balance. Thats why countries like Denmark Switzerland and etc (which are Socialistic Capitalist) are the best countries. And have most happy people.

  11. I saw someone on Rachel Maddow night saying that police officers can moonlight for BP while still wearing their official uniforms and using city vehicles. so it’s not clear that that officer was operating as a Texan civil servant or a BP tool.

  12. Forgive me for asking but isn’t what the police did a violation of law? Unreasonable search and seizure? I don’t believe there is any law against taking photos of anything, anywhere either.

    1. Texas law isn’t too hard to read. This looks very much like unlawful restraint:

      Texas penal code § 20.02 :
      (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly restrains another person. (snip)
      (c) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor (snip)
      (d) It is no offense to detain or move another under this section when it is for the purpose of effecting a lawful arrest or detaining an individual lawfully arrested.

      As there was no reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, and there was no lawful arrest made, it seems fairly straightforward to me.

  13. I know one happy CEO: Steve Ballmer. Microsoft is no longer the world’s most evil corporation, now slightly behind the new leader.

  14. Oh jesus in heaven. After unlawfully detaining him, the police officer demanded the guy’s social then handed over all his private information to the BP guard?

    Oh lord, please let this guy sue the crap out of BP and the police county.

  15. All reasonable people should want to find the right balance security for these facilities vs. the public’s right to monitor–after all the surrounding community’s safety is also at stake in the event of an attack. Most of us wouldn’t want a stranger hanging around our kid’s school taking pictures for a “story” on the failures of public schools.

    BTW, maybe someone will explain how photographs could possibly aid an investigation of “large toxic releases”. I believe that would take chemical samples and lab analysis.

    This seems like a non-story…maybe the security people overstepped a bit, maybe the photographer’s organization should have notified BP of his activities. Stop with the “sue BP and the police”.

    Post-9/11, responsible news organizations should be expected to research and understand Homeland Security requirements for federally registered facilities such as nuclear/petrochemical and transportation facilities. The companies are under federal mandates to spend $ billions to upgrade security and expect all their employees to be mindful of suspicious activities.

    1. There you’ve said it yourself: public right to monitor. It is irrelevant whether it is useful or not.

      Thirty years ago these were the scare stories people brought back from trips behind the Iron Curtain. “Imagine that, you can’t even take pictures from the highway without the Stazi coming to interrogate you and ripping the film from your camera!”

  16. The Texas City refinery “accident” killed 15 people and injured 100+ more. It cost BP upwards of 1.5 billion dollars in lawsuit payouts and a lot more in reputation within the industry.

    Look, I work at a refinery for an industrial gas company that supplies two refineries with hydrogen (one of them being a BP site).
    The game changed in 2005 because of that incident. BP had no scapegoat or equipment failure to fall back on…it was solely the fault of the operations and management teams performing the startup. It was a nightmare for BP that had repercussions throughout the entire industry.

    Security at our plant is insane. There is a low income neighborhood across the street that the refinery rental cops drive around and police as if they had any jurisdiction there. Anyone getting a little too close to the fence line receives more attention then they deserve. It’s crazy and disgusting at the same time.

    Because of all of the bullshit that comes with working for Big Oil, I gave my resignation. Some people are cut out for the corporate douche-baggery that is required to make a career in this industry, and I’m just not one of them.

    Incidents like this really remind me of that.

  17. The word “photog”, although shorter than “photographer”, actually makes the headline longer to read. ¿How much? By a factor of six hundred approximately once you add the time it takes me to gouge my eyeballs from their sockets.

    English is my second language and it’s a weird occurence to look up a word’s definition and feel dumber by learning it.

  18. Sounds similar to the harassment experienced by photographers here in the UK, with UK police making up new “laws” as they go along or even acting outside of the law. Here it is not illegal to take pictures in a public area or on a public highway. Our police have been over-stepping the mark recently, with one amateur photographer near me being arrested after an altercation with local council “officials” demanding to see ID, to which they have no right whatsoever. They called police, who arrested him under section 44 of the anti-terrorism act, placing him in the back of a van and generally mistreating him. Total rot. They eventually “de-arrested” and released him and a complaints procedure deemed the arrest as being “unlawful! I smell a lawsuit coming on. Despite guidelines and warnings being handed down from senior police ranks, this problem is on-going with reports still emerging of similar situations.

  19. This has been standard operating policy for anything that constitutes a security incident as per 33CFR105.280. And all security incidents must be reported as per 33CFR101.305. The fact that this was signed into law years ago, and has been enforced for many years as well is carefully ignored in this article. These aren’t anti-press laws, and this happens at every facility owned by any company, be it multi-national conglomerates or small locally owned facilities.

    Sure, its easy to make out BP as the bad guys, but have a descent sense of perspective and show some base knowledge of existing law before making local workers look like some kind of anti 1st amendment gestapo force. I guess I still feel a little sympathy for the working man trying to do his job…

  20. It should be no surprise that the photographer’s personal information was handed over to the BP security guard. For some time now, the U.S. Government has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of BP. Didn’t you get the memo?

  21. When things like this happen it reminds me of all those lame-a**es who say, “well if you don’t do anything wrong you have nothing to worry about.” Well folks the “wrong” thing is now determined by corporate security and their cop minions. We’re supposed to think that facebook and twitter and Lady Gaga or whatever other sh** they keep shoving down our throats, make our life a whole lot better, but seriously folks, we are this close | to a police state and we are all ok with it – especially here in Canada where they even make their own laws up as they go. Sue them? Means nothing to them.

    I’m so pi**ed I could spit.

  22. I hope photog seeks legal advice for filing false imprisonment/detailment charges against these boobs.

  23. OK. My response would be as a former police official to say “screw you take me in and I will see you in court”. There is a line that can not be crossed and they are crossing it. Also I would not be giving out my personal SSN to a BP security guard.

  24. 33CFR101.305 does not apply in this case since this guy did not breach the security of the facility. Suspicious activity is not taking a picture on a public road when the facility is in plain site or view of the public road.

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