Fatal blaze at Texas refinery to result in lawsuits against Marathon

FILE PHOTO: Production units are seen in operation at Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Attorneys representing the family of a worker who was killed in a fire at a Texas City, Texas, refinery and another worker who was hospitalized said on Wednesday they have filed or would soon file injury claims against top U.S. oil refiner Marathon Petroleum.

An employee killed in the fire was the second fatality at the refinery this year and comes amid a series of fires at U.S. refineries and petrochemical plants since January.

Scott Higgins, a 55-year-old machinist, was killed and two contract employees, including Eduardo Olivo, were injured in a fire at Marathon’s giant Galveston Bay Refinery on Monday morning.

Olivo and the third worker, who has not been identified, were employees of Mistras Group Inc, which provides support to refiners. Olivo received second- and third-degree burns, his attorney, Muhammad Aziz, said at a news conference this week.

An investigation is underway, Marathon spokesperson Jamal Kheiry said, declining to provide further information.

In addition to an internal probe by Marathon, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration began an investigation this week along with state and federal environmental agencies.

The three were performing preventative maintenance on the plant's Ultraformer-3, which converts naphtha produced in oil refining to reformate, an octane booster for gasoline.

The unit is the larger of two Ultraformers at the 593,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Galveston Bay Refinery, the second-largest in the United States. The repairs were intended to keep the unit in operation until a planned overhaul next January, according to people familiar with the matter.

"We will be suing Marathon and the other entities" for gross negligence over Higgins death, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said on Wednesday. "Marathon put its profits over worker safety," he added.

Olivo was burned and "intends to bring negligence, premises liability and/or gross negligence" claims over his injuries, law firm Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner said in a court filing.

Higgins was the second worker to die at the Marathon refinery this year. A contractor was electrocuted on Feb. 28.

On March 23, 2005, when the refinery was owned by BP Plc, 15 contract workers were killed and 180 other people were injured in a explosion caused by an overflowing refinery unit.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)