August 12, 2010 - BP agreed today to pay $50 Million in fines assessed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violations of numerous safety regulations at the BP Texas City Refinery. BP had been operating the Texas City refinery under close scrutiny by OSHA since an explosion at the plant killed 15 workers and injured 100's more in March of 2005. An agreement between BP and OSHA in September of 2005 resulted in a payment of $21 million dollars in fines (which was twice the highest amount previously assessed by OSHA). BP also agreed to a comprehensive audit of the Texas City refinery for a period of 4 years, in which BP was required to repair the facility to safe operational process standards. At the end term of the agreement last fall, OSHA determined that BP was noncompliant with the terms of the agreement and found numerous additional infractions, which resulted in $87 million in additional penalties. BP appealed those findings and an administrative hearing was scheduled for next week. The most recent developments is essentially a plea agreement by BP to avoid the hearing and is an acknowledgement of the numerous infractions identified by OSHA last year.
"My firm represented many of the victims of the 2005 explosion and the families of others who have lost loved ones working for BP in the years since. We are understandably troubled by the reality that BP continually violates industry safety practices, even when directly under the watchful eye of the OSHA. BP deliberately undercut safety at the Texas City refinery, which directly caused a tragic and very catastrophic explosion in 2005, and appears to have also caused yet another such tragedy offshore this year aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig. While we are pleased to see BP finally concede to the recent additional safety violations at the Texas City facility, we are disappointed that they were able to reduce the total amount of the penalties from $87 Million to $50 million dollars. BP should not have been able to negotiate any concessions in the amount of the penalties, particularly in light of their lengthy rap sheet on environmental and safety issues, and particularly because of all the additional harm they have caused from the rig disaster. Hopefully someday soon management at BP will grow tired of being in the international headlines as the poster child of bad business practices and reckless abandon".
The results of this decision have further potential ramifications. The confession today may cause additional troubles to BP over a lingering plea agreement reached with the Department of Justice in 2007 over the same March 2005 explosion. Under the terms of the plea agreement reached there, BP confessed to felony criminal violations of the Clean Air Act and three years of probation and payment of $50 million in fines. A unique condition of the plea also required BP to abide by the terms of the OSHA settlement agreement. With the recent findings by OSHA that they did not abide by the terms, and BP's plea today, the reevaluation of the DOJ plea could take place. BCA long opposed the original plea agreement as too lax and had sought the overthrow of the plea in prior requests to the Federal Court and to the DOJ.
"It is our strong belief that the findings of OSHA last fall in the rescission of the settlement agreement with BP triggered a default of the DOJ plea. Today’s additional concessions on the matter should clearly trigger a failure of compliance with the DOJ plea and further proceedings should be addressed between the Court and the DOJ".
About Brent Coon & Associates:
BCA is now at the epicenter of the oil spill litigation. In addition to representing hundreds of rig workers, shrimpers, fishermen and business/condo owners across the Gulf Coast, Brent Coon is serving on an ad hoc committee of attorneys advising and assisting Ken Feinberg on the administration of the $20B Claims Fund.
Brent Coon & Associates was the lead counsel in the BP Texas City Explosion of March 23, 2005, representing hundreds of affected workers. Working with the Chemical Safety Board, Department of Justice, the USW and other organizations, BCA released over 7 million documents to the media concerning refinery safety and played a pivotal role in establishing the occurrences of multiple, major safety violations. Conditions of settlements also included a precedent setting charitable donations program which raised 44 million dollars for UTMB, Texas A&M’s Process Safety Management Center, College of the Mainland, St. Jude’s, and the James and Linda Rowe Scholarship foundations. Brent Coon and his client Eva Rowe were awarded the Steven J. Sharp Award for Excellence by the American Association of Justice for their role.