* BP says sees no basis of lawsuit
* Case stems from excess pollution in April, May
By Erwin Seba
HOUSTON, Aug 3 More than 2,000 people filed a
class-action lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday seeking over
$10 billion in punitive damages from BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) for 40
days of excess pollution from the company's Texas City, Texas,
refinery, according to court documents.
"In order to avoid losing the profit from shutting down an
operating unit ... (BP) instead spewed thousands of pounds of
one of the most deadly and nastiest carcinogens into the
atmosphere, exposing unsuspecting onsite workers and nearby
residents," the lawsuit said.
BP reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental
Quality that over 500,000 pounds of chemicals was released into
the air between April 6 and May 16, when a hydrocracking unit
at the refinery was malfunctioning.
BP also reported that an estimated 17,000 pounds of benzene
was released during the malfunction in April and May in the
hydrocracking unit called an ultracracker.
The Texas Attorney General's office is investigating
whether the release should be handled as a criminal or only a
A BP spokesman said monitoring equipment at the refinery
did not show elevated levels of pollution during the
"Based on our understanding of the facts and circumstances,
BP does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in
connection with this event," said BP spokesman Michael Marr in
a statement. "BP is not taking or paying such claims."
"Each day, more than 400 pounds of benzene, a known human
carcinogen, were released; a number 40 times the state
reportable levels," according to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday
in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas in
Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who filed the case, said the
damages were meant to punish the energy giant for its operation
of the Texas City refinery, which is the nation's
"BP averages 200, sometimes 400, releases yearly," Buzbee
said in a statement. "The authorities have been unable to force
BP to follow our emission laws and the regulatory penalties are
insufficient. Enough is enough."
The 465,000 barrel per day (bpd) Texas City refinery was
the site of an explosion in March 2005 that killed 15 workers
and injured 180 others.
Several of the plaintiffs identified in Tuesday's lawsuit
work at the refinery.
The lawsuit comes as BP faces federal Congressional and
criminal investigations related to the oil spill in the Gulf of
Mexico from its blown-out Macondo oil well.
The company took a $32 billion charge in the second quarter
for costs related to the spill.
Last year, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health
Administration slapped BP with a record $87.4 million in fines
for safety violations at the refinery and two-thirds of the
penalty was due to failure to fix problems found in 2005 after
BP has said it spent $1 billion to fix the problems found
after the explosion. The company paid out more than $2 billion
to settle claims from the blast. Last year, BP pleaded guilty
to federal criminal charges in the explosion and paid a $50
million fine. The company was also placed on probation for
In 2005, BP paid OSHA a $21.3 million fine for violations
found in the blast.
(Editing by Gary Hill)