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ABC News: Attorneys plan to depose BP CEO over 2005 deadly plant explosion

(02/20/07 – GALVESTON, TX) – Attorneys representing workers injured during BP PLC’s deadly Texas City plant explosion in 2005 said Monday they plan to question outgoing company chief executive Lord John Browne about the accident this week, unless the Texas Supreme Court intervenes.

Earlier this month, a Houston appeals court ordered Browne give a deposition to attorneys for Clarence Kinard and E.J. Godeaux, contract workers suing BP for injuries they sustained during the blast. Fifteen people died and more than 170 others were injured.

During a court hearing Monday, BP attorney Stephen Fernelius said the company has asked the Texas Supreme Court to stop the deposition.

The workers’ civil lawsuits are set for trial next week. They would be the first cases connected to the blast to go to trial.

The deposition was originally ordered in October by state District Judge Susan Criss in Galveston, who is overseeing the case. BP’s appeal delayed the deposition.

Attorney Brent Coon said he planned on flying to London, where the company is based, and deposing Browne on Friday.

Coon said Browne has unique knowledge about budget cuts and other company decisions that contributed to equipment failures at the plant and caused the explosion.

“Lord Browne does not have any unique knowledge of the incident,” said BP spokesman Neil Chapman.

BP announced last month that Browne would step down by the end of July — more than a year ahead of schedule.

His retirement comes after a series of high-profile mishaps including the deadly blast and a giant oil spill in Alaska tarnished the image of one of the world’s largest oil companies.

Browne’s deposition would come a few days before the start of jury selection in the lawsuits of Kinard and Godeaux.

Godeaux, 61, a painter and sandblaster, sustained neck and back injuries and had his right eardrum blown out. Kinard, 67, who worked as a boilermaker, injured his back after being knocked down on top of a scaffold. Attorneys said the men also suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

Jury selection in the case is set for March 1 and 2, with opening statements on March 5.

“Not good,” Coon said when asked about the chances the cases would be settled before next week.

Chapman said BP is working to settle the lawsuits, as it has done with the majority of the more than 1,000 claims filed against the company.

The Texas City explosion occurred when part of the plant’s isomerization unit, which boosts the level of octane in gasoline, overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons.

A geyser-like release of flammable liquid and vapor ignited as the unit started up. Alarms and gauges that should have warned of the overfilling equipment failed to work at the plant, located about 40 miles southeast of Houston.

The unit had a history of problems and was not hooked up to a flare system that burns off vapor and could have prevented or minimized the accident, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, one of several agencies looking into the blast.

The CSB also found that BP fostered bad management at the plant and that internal documents showed budget cuts caused a progressive deterioration of safety at the refinery.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=local&id=5049535

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