Plaintiff lawyer shows parallels in BP oil spill with refinery explosion in 2005

Alejandro de los Rios Jun. 25, 2010, 3:27am


Beaumont, Texas personal injury lawyer Brent Coon said that a "lack of safety culture" at BP and all of its subsidiaries caused the April 20 explosion on the company's Deepwater Horizon rig which has led to the largest oil spill in American history.

Speaking at Harris Martin Publishing's Oil Spill Litigation Conference in New Orleans, Coon spoke about BP's safety record and drew parallels between the Deepwater Horizon explosion and an explosion at BP's Texas City refinery in 2005.

Coon, who represented dozens of plaintiffs in litigation relating to the refinery explosion, said that BP is accountable for 95 percent of all the major federal safety citations given to oil companies in the past decade and that BP has the highest mortality rate in the industry.

Coon said that BP is "willing to take those extra risks" to cut costs and that the company is unwilling to invest in an efficient process safety system.

With the Deepwater Horizon explosion and ensuing oil spill, Coon said that he sees BP employing many of the same tactics and that the company failed to learn the lesson from the Texas refinery blast.

The explosion at Texas City killed 15 workers and injured 170. Coon sued BP on behalf of the United Steel Workers that were working on the refinery at the time of the explosion. He said that during four years of litigation, his firm investigated "every level of BP" and acquired seven million documents that he successfully argued to be left unsealed after settlement.

In the Texas City case, Coon said that he and his staff uncovered "thousands" of reports filled out by BP employees that warned of a looming accident at the refinery.

Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, several rig workers have come out publicly said that the BP-owned rig was operating under unsafe conditions.

Coon said his Texas City investigation found that BP was more concerned about their public relations fallout after the 2005 blast than trying to find the cause and correct the mistakes that led to the explosion.

"BP has a very sophisticated remedial plan for P.R. (public relations)," he said. "Since they have so many disasters, they have a fine-tuned process."

In his presentation, Coon highlighted an internal e-mail from BP employee Patricia Wright sent out in the immediate aftermath of the explosion.

Wright wrote that BP should "expect a lot of coverage tomorrow. Then I believe it will essentially go away - due to the holiday weekend."

Coon also noted that Greg Tonnies, the fire chief at the Marathon Plant across the street from the BP refinery was fired from his post after posting pictures of the blasts' aftermath on the fire department's website.

After his presentation, Coon said that BP engaged in a campaign aimed at preventing media exposure of the Texas City blast. He said that BP security officers told a "60 Minutes" television crew was told they could not film an interview with the BP refinery in the background.

Several media outlets have criticized BP for prohibiting camera crews from filming cleanup efforts of the Gulf oil spill on public beaches.

A June 9 statement released by BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said "Recent media reports have suggested that individuals involved in the clean up operation have been prohibited from speaking to the media, and this is simply untrue."

"BP fully supports and defends all individuals rights to share their personal thoughts and experiences with journalists if they so choose."

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