Four American companies named as defendants in suit over explosion on Mexican offshore rig

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Oct. 15, 2009, 6:00am

LUFKIN – Four American companies and a faulty valve are being blamed for the explosion on a mobile offshore platform that caused the death of 22 workers and the injury of 63 more.

Seventeen Mexican residents filed a lawsuit against Gulf Coast Marine and Associates Inc., Schlumberger Technology Corp., Halliburton Co., Matthews-Daniel Co. and Glen Carter. The personal injury and wrongful death case was filed on Oct. in the Lufkin Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

In the midst of a pending tropical storm system entering the Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 23, 2007, a mobile platform collided with a stationary platform in the Bay of Campeche, Mexico, resulting in an uncontrollable oil and gas leak. The mobile platform exploded with 73 employees of Petroleos Mexicanos on board.

According to the court records, defendant Matthews-Daniel initiated the events that led to the emergency evacuation of the Usumacinta mobile platform. The defendant was hired to analyze and issue risk assessments as to the environmental and seafloor integrity for which the Usumacinta would operate.

The assessment relied on data from 1990 that was prior to exploration of the seafloor's bottom. Although the assessment was based on virgin seafloor, the plaintiffs state that a previous rig left 87 holes, each approximately 53 feet deep, in the seafloor making it much weaker than virgin seafloor.

Defendant Matthews-Daniel estimated the rig would settle one-half meter into the seafloor. The plaintiffs believe that a combination of the weakened seabed, adverse weather conditions and the rig's light weight caused the oscillations and uneven settlement.

"Not surprisingly, the Usumacinta succumbed to the gaping subsurface seafloor holes, which tilted the entire rig, caused it to settle into the seafloor, and ultimately collapse upon the KAB-101 [platform]," the complaint states.
The mobile platform's deck struck the top of the stationary platform's production valve and caused a leak of crude oil and gas. After the leak was identified, personnel attempted to close the safety valves and believed they were successful. However, oil and gas continued to leak from valves that would not completely shut.

"Employees were notified that the well was unable to be controlled; fear and panic quickly flooded the platform," the lawsuit states.

Employees put on lifejackets and began boarding lifeboats. However, the lifeboats began to collapse due to the fierce waves and storm being generated by the passing cold front and impending tropical system.

"Employees were abandoned approximately 16 miles offshore for up to 20 hours while enduring harsh weather and the unbearable saltwater environment in hopes of being rescued," the plaintiffs state.

Several employees were unable to survive the conditions and drowned at sea.

According to the lawsuit, Gulf Coast Marine made the decision to tow the mobile Usumacinta platform during inclement weather, a combination of a cold front and a tropical system entering the Gulf of Mexico.

Defendant Schlumberger Technology manufactured the safety valve that was fitted on the platform where the leak occurred.

Halliburton manufactured a subsurface safety valve and sensor that was also on the platform.

Matthews-Daniel Company provided Petroleos Mexicanos with the rig location approvals and site assessments for offshore explorations.

The plaintiffs allege the defendants are negligent for failing to safely position the platform, for failing to provide a safe working environment and accurate weather information, proper supervision, proper equipment and in good repair, timely rescue efforts, accurate soil condition information and platform placement.

The lawsuit is seeking damages for post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depressive disorder, future pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, loss of companionship, support, consortium, pre and post-judgment interest and attorneys' fees.

Arguing the defendant's actions were more than "momentary thoughtlessness, inadvertence, or misjudgment," the plaintiffs are also seeking exemplary damages.

Houston attorneys David P. Matthews and Jason C. Webster of the law firm Matthews and Associates is representing the plaintiffs.

Case No 9:09cv00162

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