Monday PM February 18th, 2008

Attorneys for victims of BP's deadly 2005 plant explosion argue the oil giant's fine for its criminal responsibility in the accident could be as much as $3.2 billion, dwarfing the $50 million being proposed in a plea agreement. Attorneys say the fine, at the very least, should be more than $200 million. BP has said it's paid more than $1.6 billion to settle at least half of the 4,000 lawsuits filed after the accident. Attorneys for victims say doubling that amount, as prescribed by law under an alternative fines provision, would amount to $3.2 billion. The proposed fines were included in court documents filed by victims' attorneys last week at the request of a federal judge who is deciding whether to accept a guilty plea deal resulting from the federal government's probe of the accident. The agreement proposes that BP pay a $50 million fine for its criminal conduct in the blast, which killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others. The company would also be on probation for three years. BP and federal prosecutors are expected to file their responses within the week.


A refinery blast in Big Spring this morning forced the evacuation of two nearby elementary schools before classes were canceled at all nine Big Spring school campuses. Assistant Superintendent Carie Dunnam says bus routes were affected by road closures and that emergency officials were warning of the potential for more explosions. Dunnam says the explosion forced open the doors of the school district's administration building and dropped chunks of her ceiling on her head four miles from the plant. Firefighters report the fire at the Alon USA oil refinery is under control after the 8:30 a.m. blast. A spokesman for the refiner says one worker was injured in the blast on the eastern edge of Big Spring, which is about 280 miles west of Dallas, halfway between Dallas And El Paso. Spokesman Blake Lewis says all workers at the plant have been accounted for. But Mayor Russ McEwen put that number at four, and said one of the workers was sent to a burn unit. The blast sent black smoke billowing into the sky, and shut down area schools and an interstate highway. The refinery employs about 170 people and produces about 70,000 barrels a day. Lewis says he didn't know how many people might be at the plant at the time.


Eagle Rock Energy Partners is investigating an explosion and fire at a pipeline in Hidalgo County last Friday, according to the Houston Business Journal. The gas flow was cut off through the affected pipeline, which had been carrying about 35 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. The gas has been diverted to alternate outlets. The Houston midstream and upstream energy company says were no injuries or fatalities.


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez says his country is not preparing to cut off oil shipments to the U.S. The socialist leader rattled oil markets a week ago when he threatened to halt shipments in retaliation for ExxonMobil's success in convincing courts in the U.S. and Europe to freeze Venezuelan assets. But Chavez does warn that shipments to the U.S. could be stopped if Washington "attacks'' or "tries to harm'' his country. The U.S. denies there are any such plans. And Chavez is floating the possibility of a new tax on foreign oil companies that continue operating in Venezuela. He's calling it "a tax on sudden earnings.'' ExxonMobil is based in Irving.


A San Antonio bakery is recalling all of its packaged products over concerns some contain nuts and milk not listed on the label. The Texas Department of State Health services on Friday announced the recall of packaged items from the La Familia bakery. Health officials believe the products were sold at convenience stores in the San Antonio, Pearsall and Devine areas. The recall includes cookies and Mexican sweet bread, or pan dulce. The items are in clear, twist-tied, plastic bags that carry the name of La Familia bakery. State health officials say people who are allergic to nuts and milk should not eat the products.


 

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