'Test' trial for BP toxic release suit underway

By John Suayan, Galveston Bureau | Sep 16, 2013

GALVESTON - The first week of the "test" trial into the 2010 BP toxic release is in the books.

With attorney Tony G. Buzbee of The Buzbee Law Firm in Houston serving as their lead counsel, many Galveston County residents have brought lawsuits against BP for the event in question at what used to be its Texas City facility.

The plaintiffs assert they were exposed “to significant amounts of toxic and noxious chemicals as well as benzene” for 40 days after a hydrogen compressor in the refinery’s ultracracker unit went offline on April 6, 2010.

BP sold the property to Marathon Petroleum Corp. for $2.4 billion earlier this year.

Said trial, presided by Galveston County 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox, primarily focuses on four selected claimants' allegations from which the outcome will set the precedent for how the other cases would proceed.

A jury of was seated in a Galveston County courtroom Sept. 11, and Buzbee and BP's legal team presented opening arguments.

Buzbee accused BP of prioritizing profits while his counterparts on the defense insist the petrochemical company had nothing to do with the release of at least 540,000 pounds of chemical and compounds, including 17,000 pounds of benzene, into the environment.

The jury was shown video depositions from a few employees answering questions about the purported constant failure of the 100 J compressor, a component of the aforementioned ultracracker.

It heard testimony from Michael Sawyer, a process safety engineer, and Kevin Dixon, a Texas City firefighter.

Sawyer discussed excessive air emissions and mechanical integrity in relation to the release as well as other events at the refinery going back to April 2005.

Dixon recounted responding to an odor complaint call on April 18, 2010, at a residence some 18 blocks from the refinery and attributing the incident to a "possible plant release."

The trial is expected to last approximately six weeks.

The Galveston County District Clerk's Office previously reported that with nearly 50,000 complainants, the emission litigation exceeded the number of cases filed in response to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association’s supposed mishandling of Hurricane Ike claims in the county.

Each suit seeks at least $200,000 in damages.

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