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Court rules on BP blast victims’ rights

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Financial Times: Court rules on BP blast victims’ rights

By Sheila McNulty in Houston

Published: May 8 2008 00:19 | Last updated: May 8 2008 01:25

A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that the rights of victims in BP’s fatal Texas City explosion in March 2005 were violated by US prosecutors who reached a secret plea agreement with the UK oil group late last year before consulting victims.

The appeals court refused to block the plea deal but sent it to the district court in Houston to take into account the victims’ rights to be consulted in this case before deciding whether to throw out the plea agreement.

Wednesday’s court decision adds to BP’s troubles in the US, where the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigations subcommittee is already probing whether the plea agreement is a strong enough deterrent, protects workers and takes into account victims’ rights.

The Texas City agreement was part of a $380m settlement BP made with US authorities to resolve cases being pursued by the US government following the Texas City explosion, which killed 15 people and injured 500 in and around the facility; a major spill and corrosion in its Alaska operations; and a propane scandal. The Texas City portion of the settlement involved a $50m criminal fine.

Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, had sought to wipe the company’s troubled US slate clean with the settlement. But victims in Texas have refused to let the case rest.

“The victims do have reason to believe that their impact on the eventual sentence is substantially less where, as here, their input is received after the parties have reached a tentative deal,” the Fifth Circuit panel of three judges said in its opinion with the ruling.

BP declined to comment.

? A dozen oil companies agreed to pay $423m in cash plus clean-up costs to settle litigation over groundwater contamination from the gasoline additive, MTBE, lawyers representing public water utilities and public agencies in 17 states, told Reuters.

The settlement, filed in the US District Court in Manhattan, involves BP America, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell Oil, Marathon Oil, Venezuela’s Citgo Petroleum Corp, Sunoco and Valero Energy, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

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Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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