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Judge urged to revoke BP refinery probation after Gulf Oil Spill

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The worsening BP p.l.c. oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a good reason to revoke the oil giant’s court-ordered probation and plea agreement for a deadly Texas refinery explosion five years ago, lawyers for the refinery victims' families told a federal judge.

DOCUMENT: Read Brent Coon’s letter to Judge Lee Rosenthal asking him to reconsider BP’s probation and plea agreement.

U.S. Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston should reconsider the government’s 2007 plea agreement with BP for a $50 million fine and a three-year probation period, civil lawyer Brent Coon said in a letter dated May 6 and made public today.

The judge accepted the plea agreement “over our expressed concerns that it would not deter future misconduct,” the letter said. “The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is yet another reason to revoke their probation.”

In March 2005, BP’s Texas City, Texas, refinery exploded, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others. Civil litigation and investigations into the explosion revealed serious safety violations at the facility, which prompted BP to enter into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) six months later.

Under the September 2005 pact, BP agreed to a litany of corrective actions designed to eliminate hazards caused by the refinery explosion.

A spokesman for BP said the company had no comment on the letter.

There is little doubt that BP has violated the terms of its court-ordered probation — indeed, compliance with the OSHA agreement was a prime condition. Last October, OSHA fined BP $87.43 million, the largest fine in agency history, for failing to repair potential safety hazards at the Texas City refinery. At the time, OSHA issued 270 “notifications of failure to abate,” and another 449 “willful violations” related to safety processes.

Since the government’s October 2007 plea deal with BP, victims’ lawyers say, additional serious safety violations have been routinely found at not just the Texas City refinery, but at other company plants.

Coon, the primary lawyer representing families of the 15 Texas City victims, and his colleagues believe the Gulf spill is just more evidence of BP’s abysmal safety record. “The BP rig incident and multiple lives lost will lead to safety lapses,” he told the Center in an email.

If Judge Rosenthal were to act on the letter’s request and revoke BP’s plea deal, executives could see jail time, he says.

The company was thrust into spotlight again on April 20 when a deepwater oil rig blew out, killing 11. The ruptured well is spewing about 5,000 barrels per day of crude oil and the resulting oil slick now threatens beaches and coastlines in four U.S. Gulf coast states.

The original version of this story incorrectly stated BP executives could face jail time if Judge Rosenthal revoked the company’s probation. The sentence should have said plea deal instead of probation. And this post reflects the correction.