ExxonMobil says fire caused by cleaning companies

Kelly Holleran Oct. 12, 2014, 1:21pm

After a company cleaned equipment at ExxonMobil's Beaumont refinery, a fire erupted, causing substantial damage, according to a recently filed lawsuit. 

ExxonMobil Corp. filed a lawsuit Sept. 9 in Jefferson County District Court against Zurich American Insurance Co., American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Co., Lexington Insurance Co., Signature Industrial Services, Clean Harbors Industrial Services and Brock Services.

In its complaint, ExxonMobil says a fire broke out at its Beaumont refinery on April 17, 2013. The fire originated in the refinery's catalytic hydro desulfurizor 2 unit, which contains equipment that removes sulfur from certain hydrocarbon feeds, according to the complaint.

Before the fire, ExxonMobil had hired defendant Clean Harbors to clean the exchangers in an attempt to purge all hydrocarbons from the system, the suit states. It also hired defendant Signature to remove bolts from the exchangers after the initial clean was completed, the complaint says.

"The day before the fire, Clean Harbors declared the chemical clean complete," the suit states. "It is now apparent, however, that the chemical clean was not complete. Despite ExxonMobil having hired Clean Harbors to purge all hydrocarbon from the system, an estimated 30-60 gallons of hydrocarbon were released from the channel head flange as bolts from the flange were being removed by Signature. Signature used a cutting torch -- as opposed to an impact wrench -- to remove the bolts, and the flame from the torch ignited the residual hydrocarbons."

As a result of the fire, ExxonMobil was forced to pay defendant Brock Services employees workers' compensation benefits because they were working near the scene of the fire and were injured, the complaint says.

ExxonMobil accuses Signature and Brock of negligence, saying both companies failed to warn of a dangerous condition, failed to properly maintain the premises, failed to correct the dangerous condition and failed to properly inspect the heat exchanger.

ExxonMobil accuses the defendants of breach of contract.

It seeks actual damages, plus 18 percent interest, attorneys' fees, declaratory relief, pre- and post-judgment interest, costs and other relief the court deems just. As the Southeast Texas Record previously reported, lawsuits have been filed by victims of the fire. (Also,  Umphrey to represent workers in suit against ExxonMobil after fire; Glen Morgan brought into suit against ExxonMobil over refinery fire; Discovery underway in suit against ExxonMobil over refinery fire.) Jack Carroll, Gilbert I. Low and Nathan M. Brandimarte of Orgain, Bell and Tucker LLP in Beaumont will be representing ExxonMobil. Jefferson County District Court case number: D196-093

This is a report on a civil lawsuit filed at the Jefferson County District Court. The details in this report come from an original complaint filed by a plaintiff. Please note that a complaint represents an accusation by a private individual, not the government. It is not an indication of guilt, and it represents only one side of the story.

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