Originally posted by Laurel Caulkins - Businessweek - September 28, 2010
Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc’s probation for violating a plea deal that resolved the company’s criminal liability for a fatal 2005 explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery won’t be revoked by the U.S. Justice Department.
After consulting with BP, regulators and blast victims, prosecutors said they would give the company 18 more months to complete required safety reviews and upgrades at the Texas refinery, according to documents filed in federal court in Houston.
“The Department of Justice is not seeking a revocation or extension of probation at this time,” Daniel Dooher, a senior trial attorney in the U.S. environmental crimes division, said in a Sept. 8 letter to U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal. Dooher said safety regulators and “BP have executed a stipulation and agreement resolving the allegations of non-compliance,” which includes an extension of BP’s deadline to complete the work until March 12, 2012, the date its probation will expire.
BP Products North America, a unit of the London-based company, agreed in March 2009 to pay a $50 million fine and complete three years probation for violating U.S. air pollution laws linked to the March 2005 explosion that killed 15 and injured thousands.
BP’s plea deal required it to complete a review of pressure-relief valves throughout its largest U.S. refinery and complete installation of automated safety instrumentation, as required by the company’s settlement with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA notified prosecutors in July 2009 that BP missed a deadline to complete that work, and last October the agency fined the company $87 million for that failure and subsequent safety lapses at the site.
Prosecutors told BP in January that they “might seek revocation and/or extension of probation” until the company complied with the OSHA agreement, Dooher said. Lawyers for blast victims asked Rosenthal to fine BP more than $2 billion, saying the original penalty represented less than one day’s profit from the Texas City plant.
Brent Coon, the lead lawyer for victims of the explosion, called the government’s decision “disappointing but not surprising.” He said yesterday in an e-mail that prosecutors had told him they “don’t want to reopen the case unless negotiations with OSHA collapse.”
Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman didn’t immediately return a call and e-mail seeking comment yesterday after regular business hours.
The 2005 explosion occurred when an octane-boosting unit overflowed as it was being restarted, igniting a blast that shattered windows five miles away. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board found numerous safety lapses that rendered the plant “a catastrophe waiting to happen,” according to John Bresland, the board’s chairman.
The case is U.S. v. BP Products North America, 4:07-cr- 00434, U.S. District Courts, Southern District of Texas (Houston).