The Firm . Playing the BP Blame Game

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Playing the BP Blame Game

TEXAS CITY — BP’s announcement last week that its Texas City refinery was for sale reverberated across the city and the county. It brought worry, a small amount of satisfaction for some but for many it was finger-pointing time.

From the mayor of Texas City who expressed frustration about BP’s decision by claiming some in the community had not treated the refinery in a neighborly fashion to industry backers who barked that BP’s decision was because repeated lawsuits and government enforcement were too much for the company to remain in business in Texas City.

“I don’t think it’s a shock here,” Texas City Mayor Matt Doyle said the morning of BP’s announcement. “We can all look back at the way we treat people who employ us.

“You need to treat your neighbors like your neighbors.”

Doyle’s frustration was directed not just to what he sees as over-regulation and punitive actions by the federal government as it relates to BP, but also to a $10 billion lawsuit the company faces as a result of an emissions event last spring that sent more than 500,000 pounds of chemicals into the air during a 40-day period.

More than 30,000 people — including local residents as well as refinery workers — have signed up to be a part of the lawsuit led by Friendswood attorney Tony Buzbee.

For his part, Buzbee said the lawsuits are not about driving BP out of business. He insists it’s to make BP a safer operating company, granted at a price to the company.

“I can’t say I will be sad to see them go,” Buzbee said. “I hope no jobs are lost. I hope the new operator is a good corporate citizen who takes safety more seriously.”

The refinery still is operating under the shadow of a series of explosions in March 2005 that killed 15 contract workers and injured more than 170 others.

So, are the government actions and lawsuits against BP and the Texas City refinery part of or the reason for BP’s exit from operating the nation’s third largest refinery?

No, a top BP spokesman said.

“The sale is a strategic decision,” BP spokesman Scott Dean said. “Our global refining strategy is to focus on feedstock advantaged, highly upgraded, well-located refineries integrated into advantaged logistics and marketing.”

While one of the largest refineries in the country, the BP Texas City facility does not sell the product it produces within the region. Most is sent by pipeline to the East Coast.

When it comes down to it, BP officials said, the sale has nothing to do with the incidents at the refinery or even last summer’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It is not integrated into BP marketing assets and has limitations to its logistics and tankage flexibility,” Dean said.

“BP would need to increase the footprint around Texas City to improve this.”

Even Doyle acknowledged that while it might be a sport to blame lawsuits and government regulation, the sale has more to do with business advantages and less to do with a company turning its back on a community it thinks doesn’t appreciate its presence.

“They don’t sell gas in this area,” Doyle said. “Their distribution system doesn’t work as well. It’s a good valuable asset, and somebody will pay attention to it.”

BP’s Dean, who predicted a bright future for the refinery, expressed the same sentiment.

“Texas City is certainly highly upgraded and has improved its performance in safety, operations and financial performance,” he said. “We believe there are other qualified operators out there who have the kind of portfolio and strategy that can unleash Texas City’s full potential.”

 

T.J. Aulds
Galveston Daily News
February 7, 2011