Valero sues over 2008 tank rupture

Source:, August 8, 2012
By: Patrick Danner

Almost four years to the day an explosion at Valero Energy Corp.’s Houston refinery led to the release of dangerous sulfur compounds, the company has sued four companies over the incident.
A Valero partnership claims in lawsuit filed Thursday that the Aug. 4, 2008, incident was the result of defects in the design, engineering and construction of the sulfur tank facilities.
The suit was filed two days before a statutory deadline.
Named in the suit are: Houston-based global engineering and construction firm KBR Inc.; BE&K Inc., which is owned by KBR; Mustang Engineers and Constructors LP, also of Houston; and Berry Contracting LP, also known as Bay Ltd., of Corpus Christi.
“Valero is hopeful this matter can be resolved with a settlement,” company spokesman Bill Day said. None of the representatives for the companies sued responded to requests for comment.
The incident occurred when an above-ground tank ruptured and released gases, the Express-News reported at the time. Residents of a nearby neighborhood were ordered to remain indoors, though the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) later reported some residents complained of sore throats, burning eyes and breathing problems.
Nearly 3,500 lbs of the toxic gas sulfur dioxide leaked during the four-hour event, the TCEQ later concluded in an enforcement action. While costs related to the incident continue to mount, the lawsuit says, Valero so far estimates it has incurred more than $5 million in damages.
The figure includes the cost of rebuilding the facilities, the resolution of claims made by individuals and the assessment of civil penalties following a regulatory investigation, the suit adds.
Valero was hit with an $8,000 administrative penalty by the TCEQ for failing to prevent the tank rupture. Half of the penalty went to a clean cities/clean vehicles program in the Houston area.
The TCEQ deemed the event “avoidable” because the Valero partnership “failed to employ better operations and maintenance practices.”
The explosion was “caused by a sulfur plug in the air sweep system,” according to the TCEQ’s enforcement action.
Valero alleges in its suit that the design, engineering construction and installation of the sulfur tank and the air-sweeping and vacuum systems “allowed for the excessive accumulation of sulfur within the vacuum breakers.” That affected the air-sweeping system, leading to the accumulation of hydrogen sulfide in the tank. The hydrogen sulfide, mixed with air, formed a “combustible mixture,” the suit says.
According to the suit, Mustang was responsible for the design and engineering of the facilities, while Bay oversaw construction. KBR and BE&K were in charge of quality control of the project, the suit added.
Valero seeks unspecified damages in the breach-of-contract and negligence suit, filed in Bexar County District Court.

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