- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — BP PLC announced a settlement yesterday with four workers who had sued the oil company over injuries in the deadly Texas City refinery explosion, thus abruptly ending the first civil trial stemming from the blast and leaving the tearful plaintiffs shaken.

The trial over the 2005 accident — which killed 15 persons, injured 170 and was the worst accident in the gas and chemical industry in almost 15 years — began Sept. 5. It was the only one of hundreds of lawsuits from the blast to reach the courtroom.

“I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to look them in the eye and tell them what I feel,” said plaintiff David Wilson of Santa Fe, Texas, who developed back problems, hearing loss and post- traumatic-stress disorder after the blast.

Mr. Wilson, who worked for a mechanical contracting company, spoke briefly before walking away sobbing. He and his wife, who suffered similar injuries, had filed separate suits.

Details of the settlement were not disclosed.

“They have emotional scars worse than any physical scars,” said Mr. Coon, who added he hopes BP learned a lesson. “When you see your buddies, co-workers, friends disintegrate before you, the psychological impact of being thrown into that kind of inferno — hell on Earth — no one would understand.”

More than 1,600 other suits have been settled, and about 1,200 are pending, Mr. Chapman said. Before the latest settlement, the explosion cost the London oil company at least $2 billion in compensation payouts, repairs and lost profit. The settlements on this suit and 10 others were reached Monday night after negotiations that lasted for a month, Mr. Coon said.

A fifth lawsuit, filed by the estate of a contract worker whose suicide was attributed to trauma from the accident, was settled just before the trial began.

The blast erupted about 1:30 p.m. March 23, 2005, at the 1,200-acre site located about 40 miles southeast of Houston. About 1,800 people worked at the plant, which included 30 refinery units, but BP officials don’t know exactly how many were there at the time.

The explosion rocked the refinery and sent flames and black smoke billowing into the sky. The blast was felt as far away as five miles, according to witnesses. Workers fought to extinguish the fire before they could sift through the rubble in search of survivors.

The BP plant, one of five BP refineries in North America, at the time produced about 433,000 barrels of crude oil a day, or 30 percent of BP’s North American gas supply and 3 percent of the U.S. supply.

The explosion occurred after a piece of equipment called a blowdown drum overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons. The excess liquid and vapor hydrocarbons were then vented from the drum and ignited as the isomerization unit — a device that boosts the octane in gasoline — started up. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment didn’t work properly.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, one of several agencies that probed the accident, found BP fostered bad management at the plant and that cost-cutting moves by BP were factors in the explosion.

BP released an internal report in May that said the plant’s culture seemed to ignore risk, tolerate noncompliance and accept incompetence.

The brief trial featured testimony from Don Parus, the plant’s former manager, who defended the company’s safety record and denied assertions that profits drove delays in repairs. Mr. Coon tried to contrast Mr. Parus’ comments with a study two months before the blast in which workers told of various safety problems at the plant.

The blast was the deadliest in the nation’s gas and chemical industry since an explosion at an Arco Chemical Co. plant in nearby Channelview killed 17 persons in 1990.

Texas City is the site of the worst industrial accident in U.S. history. In 1947, a fire aboard a ship at the Texas City docks triggered an explosion that killed 576 persons.

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