Marathon Petroleum Refinery Explosion Lawyers

Marathon Petroleum’s Texas City Refinery at the Forefront of Disaster

Like many oil and gas refineries in Houston and surrounding areas, the Texas City Refinery has stood as an economic powerhouse on the southeast Texas coast. Built-in 1934, the refinery develop a reputation of not maintain or conducting regular inspections. This lack of care and responsibility was even noticed in its early establishment. Texas City refinery is the second-largest refinery in Texas and the third-largest in the United States.

BP acquired the Texas City Refinery in 1999; however, it later merged with Amocorefin. Since then, its operations have fallen under the supervision of 5 different managers in 6 years. The refinery was purchase in 2013 by Marathon Petroleum; by this time, the facility had been involved in countless safety violations and fatal explosions. Just a few months before a Texas City Refinery blast that made national headlines in 2005. A consulting firm reported broken alarms, thinned pipe, chunks of concrete falling, bolts dropping 60 feet (18 m), and staff being overcome with fumes. “We have never seen a site where the notion ‘I could die today was so real.”


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In the center of low-octane refineries, you will find what’s called a raffinate splitter. Which is basically a tower structure in which lighter hydrocarbon components are split, and heavier components fall to the bottom. The condensed pentane and hexane are then removed to a storage container.

At the Texas City Refinery, the heavy raffinate storage tank and processor could reach a capacity of 45,000 barrels per day. After years of disrepair, repair work began on February 21, 2005, along with scheduled maintenance of the Ultracracker Unit (UCU) and the Aromatics Recovery Unit (ARU).

Several trailers had been set up to serve as offices and meeting rooms for the contractors and employees. The trailers, however, were placed within the danger zone and close to the ISOM unit. Employees were not told that the tower was in operational testing. The towers were closer than the regulated, safe distance of 350 feet.

The ISOM tower was flooded with fuels. One safety sensor sounded an alarm which the operator monitoring the flow reports did not document. However, the second safety alarm never sounded. This allowed fuel to fill the ISOM tower quickly and create pressure as more fuel flowed into the tower and the surrounding gas pipes. The emergency process for draining excess fluid had a valve that was shut, which blocked the fuel runoff and safety measures.

Staff at the Texas City Refinery were attempting to address the overflow issue to the ISOM unit. Still, each member had received contradicting information on how to proceed. While they continued to work on the best approach, the pressure within the ISOM unit and surrounding pipes began to grow. At which time, the heating units fired up to begin the conversion process (on schedule) for production.

Jim Hart
Jim Hart


The staff supervisor responsible for monitoring the gas flow and low octane hydrocarbon production left just before 11:00 a.m. to attend to a family emergency. This went against the BP Texas City Refinery safety regulations. Per safety regulation, an experienced supervisor was required in the control room for every shift. However, on this particular day, an inexperienced employee was left to monitor all the digital reports on the control boards.​

The ISOM unit was built with a safety limit of 6 feet before overflow. The tower carried over 96 feet of fuel instead because of the technical valve issues. The BP employee monitoring the ISOM unit had no way to determine how much fuel was in the tower, as the warning gauges stopped at the 6-foot mark. That was more than 15x’s the maximum capacity for the ISOM unit. At the same time, the liquid level indicators reported a height of roughly 6-7 feet (within the safety zone). In fact, the external meter showed the level going down (which would have been a normal process).

There were warning signs on the panel display in the satellite observation room. Still, the inexperienced operator did not know that the data was displayed on two different screens. And it did not provide a report on the total amount of liquid in the tower.

The contractors left the site to attend a “Zero Injury in Thirty-Days” safety benchmark, with a small dinner provided by BP. By the time the operators observed that there was little flow from the ISOM unit and tower, it was probably too late. However, they try to fix the problem by adjusted and opening valves to allow the fuel to be drained from the tower. They also turned off two of the burners to address the increased pressure reports from the tower. Unfortunately, the fuel that was drained from the ISOM tower at that point was super-heated to more than 141°F By 1:00 p.m. The contractors unaware of the pending problem and danger returned to the double-wide office trailer to have a meeting. Other workers were also in the trailer at their desks and in offices.


The liquid inside the tower began to boil, which caused increased pressure and overall volume to swell. The valves released the liquid into the blowdown drum, which overflowed into a waste sewer. That set off alarms in the operations room. Flammable hydrocarbons began spilling out the top of the blow-tower. Witnesses stated they saw a large Geiser of fluid and vapors escaping the tower. The amount of fuel that fell to the ground was the equivalent of a full fuel truck.

In less than 90 seconds, the vapor cloud spread over a large area on the refinery site, including around the trailers where employees and contractors were working. The parking lot was located close to the ISOM unit with two employees inside. The diesel truck sputtered when surrounded by the vapor, and the two men fled the vehicle but were unable to shut off the engine. The truck backfired, and the spark from the exhaust ignited the flammable vapors.

The blast wave that happened covered much of the refinery’s land area, with shock blasts devastating the trailers where workers and contractors were. Of the twenty occupants of the double-wide trailer, twelve were killed instantly by the blast. Three other workers in a trailer nearby were also killed. Approximately 180 workers located throughout the refinery suffered serious injuries with burns and fractures.

The BP Texas City Refinery accident was the most serious loss investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB). From 2008 to 2017, 1,566 American oilfield workers died as a result of accidents and injuries. From 2008 to October 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) cited 10,873 safety violations at American oil and gas refineries.

Jim Hart

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If you or a loved one suffered injuries in an explosion. Or experienced toxic exposure at or near Texas City Refinery. Our legal team is ready to fight for the justice you deserve. Williams Hart & Boundas represents individuals and families in wrongful death and injury cases against negligent oil and gas refineries in Texas.

When you hire us, you’ll receive the knowledge and resources it takes to hold these massive corporations accountable.

Too often do massive corporations escape liability for their negligence. Many victims are left to face mounting hospital expenses, long term medical care. In addition to these bills, they also have lost their income and quality of life. Thus, they often feel like they have no one to turn to. However, we want you to know that you are not alone. We, the Williams Hart & Boundas law team, will fight for the justice you deserve.

Before you sign an agreement or settlement with any insurance delegate, your employer, or an oil and gas corporation. Contact one of our experienced refinery explosion lawyers.

Contact us to schedule your confidential and free legal consultation.