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Texas Attorney General Files Suit Against BP

On August 9, 2010, The Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit against BP in relation to the toxic benzene release which occurred from April 6, 2010 to May 16, 2010. The lawsuit is captioned as State of Texas v. BP Products North America Inc., District Court, Travis County, Texas.

The State’s enforcement action alleges BP allowed harmful contaminants such as benzene, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides to be emitted from its Texas City refinery. The allegations stem from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”). According to documents filed in court by the State, TCEQ recorded multiple violations of the Texas Clean Air Act at the Texas City refinery between April 6 and May 16.

According to the complaint, BP “admitted to the release of air contaminants to the atmosphere” at its Texas City refinery after an April 6 fire on part of an ultracracking unit. BP restarted the ultracracker and another unit before repairing a compressor, sending benzene and other pollutants into the air.

“BP decided to continue those units so as not to reduce productivity,” the state said in the complaint. “BP made very little attempt to minimize the emission of air contaminants caused by its actions, once again prioritizing profits over environmental compliance.”

This new lawsuit by the State of Texas is the second against BP since June 2009. In June of 2009, the Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit alleging that the facility’s poor operational practices led to harmful releases following a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170.

Of the 72 violations cited in the State’s ongoing 2009 case, seven involve the same operating compressor unit that was responsible for the emissions from April 6 to May 16, 2010. When the unit malfunctioned and caught fire on April 6, BP workers shut it down and routed escaping gases to flares. Rather than shut down associated units while compressor repairs were made, BP chose to keep operating those other units, which led to unlawful release of contaminants to the air.

The State of Texas’ investigation shows that BP’s failure to properly maintain its equipment caused the malfunction and could have been prevented. BP’s own self-reporting data indicate that seal filters protecting the compressor failed because of an iron sulfide buildup, likely because BP failed to properly maintain these devices. The Texas Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of no less than $50 nor greater than $25,000 per day of each violation of state air quality laws, as well as attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.

The United States fined BP $50 million for a violation of the Federal Clean Water Act relating to the 2005 explosion