Former BP Chief Deposed on Deadly Refinery Explosion

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Former BP Chief Deposed on Deadly Refinery Explosion

HOUSTON -- Last Friday, former BP PLC Chief Executive John Browne participated in an hour-long phone deposition relating to the March 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that left 15 workers dead and hundreds more injured.

BP spokesperson Ronnie Chappell confirmed that Browne's deposition followed nearly two years of legal wrangling over plaintiffs' attorneys' access to Browne.

"I can confirm that Lord Browne participated in an hour-long telephonic deposition," Chappell told Dow Jones Newswires.

While the deposition included new information on cost cuts at the refinery the plaintiffs' attorney Brent Coon told Dow Jones Newswires that it was unlikely to result in any major change in the outcome of upcoming litigation. However, last month BP confirmed that it raised its legal reserves for Texas City settlements from $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion.

After admitting that he lied to a U.K. court about a relationship with a former companion, Browne stepped down from BP in May 2007. Despite being credited as an industry visionary through much of his career, Browne's last years at BP were stained by scandal and operational accidents.

A spokesman for Browne's current employer, Riverstone Holdings LLC, declined comment Friday.

Since 2006, plaintiffs' attorneys have argued that Browne should be questioned because he personally injected himself into the case. Specifically, Dow Jones Newswires reported that Browne's visit to the refinery the day after the fatal blast and financial decisions he had made merited his appearance. BP has maintained and argued that the beleaguered chief executive had no specific knowledge related to the calamity. To this end, the company's position remains that Browne should be protected under a state law that prevents chief executives from testifying on cases where they lack unique knowledge.

However, in late January, the Texas Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that opened Browne up to an unlimited deposition which proceeded, in part, on Friday. "We firmly believe that Lord Browne, like any other party to such a horrific tragedy, should have to answer for his company's misdeeds," Coon told Dow Jones Newswires.

After the deposition, Coon spoke with reporters via a conference call in which he stated that Browne acknowledged he had approved budgetary cuts for the petrochemical and refining division, and that those cuts aimed to make the facilities more competitive with the rest of the industry.

And while Coon pointed out that a 2007 report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board on the BP accident linked the budget cuts to the 2005 accident, BP disputes the findings.

Last fall, BP agreed to plead guilty to a federal environmental crime and pay a $50 million settlement as part of a larger settlement with the Justice Department that also addressed BP trading and Alaska pipeline compliance issues, reported Down Jones Newswires. The settlement, which has been criticized by Texas City victims' representatives, is pending in a Texas federal court.