BP emissions trial set for 2013
Published September 8, 2012
TEXAS CITY — Sept. 9, 2013. That’s when the first “test” trial has been scheduled in the $1 billion lawsuit against BP’s Texas City refinery during a 40-day emissions event in 2010.
More than 50,000 people sued the company over the event, which was unknown to the public until The Daily News reported the incident about a month after it ended.
On Thursday, District Court Judge Lonnie Cox set the 2013 trial date in which six plaintiffs — three picked by plaintiff’s attorneys and three picked by BP’s lawyers from a pool of 200 — will have their say in court.
The trial is considered a test, in that a jury’s ruling likely would set the stage for how the remaining cases would be disposed of either through settlements or dismissal.
“We are happy to have a date certain to try the case in a courtroom before a jury and feel confident we will win and win big,” Tony Buzbee, the lead plaintiff’s attorney, said.
“BP purposely released millions of pounds toxins in the air through a flare it knew was not operating properly. We must convince a jury that these toxins caused harm. I am confident we can do that.”
BP spokesman Scott Dean said while BP doesn’t argue there was a large release, there is no proof anyone was harmed.
“Neither the community air-monitoring network nor the BP fence-line monitors showed elevated readings during April and May 2010, and we do not believe that any negative health impacts resulted from flaring at BP’s Texas City refinery during this period,” Dean said.
“BP is defending and will continue to defend the lawsuits brought against it concerning this matter.”
From April 6, 2010, to May 16, 2010, a problem with a compressor on the refinery’s ultracracker unit resulted in increased flaring for 40 days as the unit continued to operate. During that time, more than 500,000 pounds of chemicals, including carbon monoxide and benzene, were released into the air.
A state investigation and subsequent lawsuit found that BP’s decision to keep operating the unit and flare led to a violation of the state’s air quality laws. The company paid a $50 million fine in a comprehensive settlement with the state that included past air-emission violations.
A Daily News investigation revealed that company officials were aware that the main flare had problems, and a study on its efficiency by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed it did not work as well as the company claimed.
According to records from the Galveston County District Clerk’s Office, BP faces claims from 53,800 people who contend they suffered ill health effects as a result of the emissions. Buzbee said the number is actually closer to 40,000.
BP is in the process of trying to sell its refinery. Dean said the legal action extending into next year would have no affect on that sale, which is scheduled to be announced by the end of the year.
On the refinery’s sale front, Dean said the company was in “advanced discussions” with potential buyers. Dean did not indicate who the potential buyer was or whether more than one potential buyer was involved.