First batch of BP refinery explosion documents released as part of settlement

Tuesday, December 5th 2006, 9:16 pm
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) The first set of internal BP PLC documents to be released to the public as part of a lawsuit settlement stemming from last year's deadly explosion at a Texas City refinery detail prior knowledge within the company of problems at the facility.

The documents are posted for viewing at a Web site set up by the law firm that represented Eva Rowe, who sued BP over the deaths of her parents. James Rowe, 48, and his wife, Linda, 47, of Hornbeck, Louisiana, were two of the 15 people killed in the March 2005 blast that also injured more than 170 others.

Part of Rowe's settlement last month included an agreement with BP to release millions of documents that her lawyers had planned to present at trial. These documents include reports and e-mails that show budget cuts and a lack of leadership contributed to significant safety problems at the facility. Some of those documents previously had been released to the media.

Brent Coon, Eva Rowe's attorney, said the release of these documents to the public was very important to settling the case with BP.

``We felt it was a matter of safety. It shows what went wrong and why it went wrong, so others in the industry can learn from and understand BP's mistakes,'' he said.

Coon said his firm plans on releasing a new batch of documents every week for the next several months and each batch will have a theme to it.

The first batch focuses on prior knowledge upper management and company leaders had about growing safety problems at the refinery before the explosion.

The Web site includes copies of various internal BP reports that at one time were classified as confidential. The site also offers clips of videotaped depositions taken by Rowe's attorneys.

Prominent on the Web site are clips from the six-hour deposition of former Texas City plant manager Don Parus.

Parus told Rowe's lawyers he informed upper management at BP about problems detailed in a 2005 study called the Telos Report. The report, which Parus commissioned and has previously been made public, told of various safety problems at the plant and a lack of resources and management awareness to deal with them.

Another report on the Web site, a 2002 BP commissioned report called the Good Practice Sharing Assessment, stated ``there were serious concerns about the potential for a major site incident'' at the Texas City plant.

When asked about this report's prediction, Parus said in his videotaped deposition, ``Looking back at it, that prediction came true.''

Parus was released from the lawsuit as part of the settlement.

Parts of some of the documents released on the Web site have previously been made public by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, one of several agencies looking into the blast.

BP spokesman Neil Chapman said the London-based oil company itself has released much information about the accident. The company conducted its own investigation and made the results public, he said.

``We wanted to share the lessons we learned with the industry'' and public, Chapman said. ``We made that commitment early on.''

Chris Mather, vice president of communications for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, said lawsuit settlements usually involve a secrecy agreement where such documents would not be made public.

``This is the perfect example of why we need to eliminate secrecy agreements. It's clear BP was negligent and the public deserves to know how they were negligent. Other companies need to know that so they won't be able to hide their negligence in the future.''

The explosion occurred when part of the plant's isomerization unit, which boosts the level of octane in gasoline, overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons.

There was a geyser-like release of flammable liquid and vapor, which ignited as the unit was starting up. Alarms and gauges that should have warned of the overfilling equipment failed to work at the plant, located about 40 miles southeast of Houston.

In its initial report last October, the CSB concluded the unit had a history of problems and was not hooked up to a flare system that burns off vapor and could have prevented or minimized the accident.

The report also found that BP fostered bad management at the plant.