Texas Petrochemicals sues for damage caused by fire in defendants' pipeline

Kelly Holleran Apr. 22, 2009, 7:18am

Texas Petrochemicals is suing three companies, claiming its pipelines were damaged when defendants' pipeline ruptured and started a fire.

Texas Petrochemicals filed a lawsuit April 20 in Jefferson County District Court against UCAR Pipeline Inc., Dow Chemical Company and Union Carbide Corporation.

It says an ethylene pipeline in Port Arthur owned by UCAR ruptured around 2 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2007, resulting in an uncontrolled released of ethylene.

The ruptured pipeline, which was located near Main B Canal in Port Arthur, caused an explosion and fire, the complaint states.

Later, at about 3:45 a.m., a Texas Petrochemicals pipeline ruptured and caught fire. The fire was caused by metal fatigue that occurred because of flames from the burning UCAR pipeline, according to the suit.

Another Texas Petrochemical pipeline failed at about 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2007, also due to flame impingement from other ruptured lines, Texas Petrochemical says.

"The DCS data shows the line slowly heated after the initial fire, and then lost pressure after the line cracked," the suit states.

After the fire, two section of UCAR pipeline were found – one about 75 feet from the blast epicenter and the other about 300 feet from the blast epicenter, according to court records.

"Both sections of piping had their external coating intact, indicating that flames did not burn it away and suggesting these two sections of piping were from the initial segment of the UCAR line that failed," the suit states. "Both sections of piping exhibited severe external corrosion."

Reports in the Port Arthur News at the time said the blast woke residents in nearby neighborhoods and led officials to issue a Shelter In Place order. No injuries were reported.

In addition, traffic was shut down on both the northbound and southbound lanes of U.S. 69 between FM 365 and Texas 73 for several days.

The paper reported that UCAR shut off the supply to the pipeline, but residual material in the pipes burned for four days prompting crews to flush the lines instead of waiting until they burned out on their own. Precautions were also taken to prevent chemical vapors from escaping. All companies that had pipelines in the area were dispatched to the site, the paper reported.

According to the lawsuit, Texas Petrochemical claims the defending companies were negligent by failing to safely operate the UCAR pipeline, by failing to establish proper procedures to ensure the safety of the pipeline and by failing to institute an adequate corrosion control program.

The companies also negligently failed to properly maintain the UCAR pipeline, failed to provide procedures for inspecting the pipeline and failed to provide an adequate mechanical integrity program for the pipeline, the suit states.

Texas Petrochemicals is seeking actual damages, cost of repair and replacement, unspecified exemplary damages, pre- and post-judgment interest at the legal rate, court costs and other relief to which they may be entitled.

Brook F. Minx and Mark Pickering of Donato, Minx, Brown and Pool in Houston will be representing them.

The case has been assigned to Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court.

Jefferson County District Court case number: E183-836.

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