John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Feb. 11, 2013, 3:27pm

GALVESTON - After a decade of legal battles and safety violations, BP has finally rid itself of its Texas City refinery. 

On Feb. 1, ownership of the refinery changed hands between the petrochemical giant and the Marathon Petroleum Corp. to the tune of $2.4 billion.

With the completion of the transaction, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum lays claim to the facility that was the site of two events which generated a plethora of lawsuits in Galveston County in the past eight years.

An explosion in 2005 that killed 15 workers and a 2010 toxic emission that reportedly sickened hundreds of laborers and residents combined for litigation of at least 55,000 plaintiffs and more lawsuits than were filed for Hurricane Ike damage.

The March 23, 2005, blast triggered more than 4,000 cases with numerous lawyers. According to the class action lawsuit, the explosion inflicted mental anguish among the deceased workers' surviving relatives and colleagues as well as those who sustained injuries.

Beaumont attorney Brent Coon gained national attention by representing Eva Rowe, the daughter of two plant workers who were killed while they were working in a trailer near the unit that exploded. Rowe received an undisclosed settlement and $32 million in donations for health care, training and safety education.

Both sides reached some settlements without jury deliberation, and the company vowed to work hard "toward becoming an industry leader in the areas of process and personal safety."

In March 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal approved a criminal plea deal which ordered BP to pay $50 million and serve three years probation for its role in the fatal blasts.

By the start of 2010, BP had paid more than $1 billion in victim compensation in addition to a fine in the amount of $21.4 million to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Just as the explosion-related litigation was concluding, the hydrogen compressor in the refinery's ultracracker unit went offline on April 6, 2010, and caused a chemical leak.

It took six weeks to stop the leak, after about 540,000 pounds of chemicals and compounds -- including at least 17,000 pounds of benzene -- had been released into the facility and neighboring area.

The Galveston County District Clerk's Office reports more than 50,000 people sued over the emissions, the figure exceeding the number of claims filed in response to Hurricane Ike.

Galveston County 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox scheduled a "test" trial date for the emissions incident suits on Sept. 9, 2013.

The jury's ruling in the test trial will set the precedent for how other cases would proceed.

Along with the refinery, Marathon Petroleum gets the South Houston Green Power cogeneration facility, three liquid natural gas pipelines and four southeastern marketing terminals.

Marathon insists that BP made millions of dollars of safety improvements to the Texas City refinery, making it a "very different" place from the one that exploded in 2005.

“The teams running the Texas City refinery and related marketing assets have made remarkable progress in both safety and reliability and they should feel very proud of these accomplishments,”  Iain Conn, chief executive of BP’s global refining and marketing business, said in a statement.

“This is once again a valuable business with a firm future. As it moves to Marathon Petroleum, the refinery and its employees have a strong platform from which to continue this journey and build on their many achievements.”

In the meantime, Coon and other attorneys are continuing their legal fight with BP -- this time over the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded in April 2010 killing 11 workers  and releasing almost 5  billion barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

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