Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Speech to AIChE in Houston TX Sept 4 2008

Roger Sowell presented the keynote address at the September 4, 2008 dinner meeting of the South Texas Section of American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) in Houston, Texas. The meeting was in the Aramco Services building on Loop 610.


Legal Aspects of the March 23, 2005 Explosion at BP's Texas City Refinery
by Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

The deadly explosion and fire of March 23, 2005 killed 15 and injured 170 others. This explosion has reportedly cost BP more than $2.1 billion in legal settlements. Additional millions will be or have been spent to repair the damaged refinery units.

The explosion was caused by a series of errors while starting up a distillation tower at the C5/C6 Isomerization Unit following a scheduled shutdown for maintenance. The presentation briefly reviews the events of the startup, and other factors that contributed to the deaths and injuries.

Next, the legal setting at this refinery is outlined, including some of the legal theories of liability. These include criminal violations of the Clean Air Act, the torts of negligence and wrongful death, engineering professional malpractice, and violations of other regulations.

The presentation then discusses important actions taken by Federal agencies as a result of this explosion, and that impact refineries. The agencies include the Chemical Safety Board, OSHA, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

To conclude, several do's and don'ts are given. Designers and operators of refineries and chemical plants should be aware of these, to enhance process safety.

(Most information presented is taken from public domain sources. Any copyrighted material is used under a fair use exemption to the copyright laws).

Post-presentation update: The South Texas Section meeting of AIChE included approximately 100 people, ranging from retired engineers to those just out of college. I was particularly pleased to have classmates, family, and many friends in the audience.

The audience was very knowledgeable about the explosion, as might be expected in Houston very near the refinery in Texas City. The questions during and after the speech were excellent. This topic, legal aspects of refinery explosions, continues to generate keen interest among the engineering and legal communities.

Houston is Mr. Sowell's hometown, where he grew up and started his engineering career.

He is a California attorney and represents oil refining companies, among other clients. For more information on the legal services Mr. Sowell provides to clients, or to have Mr. Sowell speak on energy and legal topics to your organization, see his website at www.resowell-law.com.

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