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BP Settles Last Refinery Blast Suit

By JUAN A. LOZANO
The Associated Press
Friday, November 10, 2006; 11:26 AM

GALVESTON, Texas -- Eva Rowe slowly wiped away tears as her attorney talked about how the settlement of a lawsuit against BP PLC for her parents' deaths in last year's deadly Texas City refinery explosion would bring her closure.

"We're here to talk about the good things we have struggled for the last year and a half that now help Eva get closure with respect to this tragedy and go on with her life," Brent Coon, Rowe's attorney, said in announcing the settlement.

The civil lawsuit was concluded on Thursday as parties from both sides announced the settlement just before jury selection was to begin. It was the last of the lawsuits involving fatalities that had not been resolved out of court.

In a separate action, six workers who were fired from their jobs at the Texas City refinery after the accident settled their libel suits with BP. They had each claimed that BP defamed them by blaming them for the accident. The six were involved in restarting, after a monthlong outage, the unit that exploded on March 23, 2005.

Rowe had previously pledged to take her case to trial to shed light on what caused the March 2005 blast that killed 15 people, including her parents, 48-year-old James Rowe and his wife, Linda Rowe, 47, of Hornbeck, La., and injured more than 170 others. Coon said the settlement will still do that plus benefit the community.

The settlement awarded an undisclosed amount to Rowe. It also called for London-based BP to continue to release documents related to the case and to donate millions of dollars to schools and medical facilities, including one where victims were treated after the explosion.

"I'm very satisfied with the outcome to be able to help so many people in the community and make a difference for long-term things. I didn't want my parents to be forgotten. I know that they won't," said Rowe, 22.

The donations, which could total $38 million, include $1 million for the school system in Hornbeck, where Linda Rowe was a teacher's aide. The adult burn unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which treated 23 victims of the blast, will get $12.5 million.

Coon said the settlement will allow Eva Rowe to continue with her new life's goal of improving safety within the petrochemical industry. They plan in January to help introduce state legislation that focuses on eliminating the types of outdated equipment that contributed to the deadly explosion.

Coon also said his law firm will continue to release documents related to the case as long as both sides agree. Any disagreements would have to be settled by an arbiter.

"BP has admitted they were responsible. The issue is what level of knowledge did they have in advance. Those issues are still out there," Coon said.

Documents will be made available to the public and media through two Web sites Coon's law firm has set up.

"We are happy to have been able to resolve this and spare Ms. Rowe the task of bringing this case to trial," said BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell.

BP has said it has committed more than $1 billion over the next five years to upgrade and maintain the facility and has made vast safety improvements, including introducing better training programs and removing more than 200 temporary structures.

Rowe also sued former Texas City plant manager Don Parus and J.E. Merit Constructors Inc., which employed her parents. Both were released from the lawsuit in the settlement. Attorneys for J.E. Merit would not comment. Don Riddle, Parus' attorney, said the settlement was "vindication" for his client.

The explosion at the plant, located about 40 miles southeast of Houston, occurred after a piece of equipment called a blowdown drum overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons.

The excess liquid and vapor hydrocarbons were then vented from the drum and ignited as the isomerization unit _ a device that boosts the octane in gasoline _ started up. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment didn't work properly.

In its initial report in October 2005, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, one of several agencies looking into the blast, concluded the isomerization unit had prior problems and was not connected to a flare system that would have burned off vapor and prevented or minimized the accident.

The report also found that BP fostered bad management at the plant. The CSB's final report won't be issued until at least March.

Last week, the board urged the petroleum industry and federal regulators to eliminate blowdown drums from all U.S. refineries.

Since the blast, BP has dealt with a variety of problems, including pipeline corrosion that forced production declines at its Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska, equipment failure at a production platform under construction in the Gulf of Mexico and investigations into illegal price fixing in the propane market.

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On the Net:

Brent Coon law firm Web sites for release of documents:

http://www.texascityexplosion.com/

http://www.texascityexplosionmedia.com

© 2006 The Associated Press