Dylan Purcell and Nicholas Moore have filed a $10 million lawsuit against ExxonMobil after they were injured in an explosion and fire at the company’s Baytown refinery. Two other workers were also injured in the December 23, 2021, incident at the Houston-area plant. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Purcell and Moore are subcontractors who work for La Porte, Texas-based Colt Services. The workers filed the lawsuit in Harris County court on December 27, 2021. The pair said in the lawsuit they working alongside two workers from Team Industrial Services when the explosion and fire occurred. Team Industrial Services is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The men said in the lawsuit they were “carrying out their assigned and permitted work tasks when an explosion and large fire occurred, later described by authorities as a ‘major industrial accident.'”
ExxonMobil media relations advisor Sarah Nordin told the Houston Chronicle, “ExxonMobil remains focused on the safety of our people and those in the surrounding community and continues to fully cooperate with authorities regarding this incident.” Team Industrial Services has not commented about the lawsuit. Colt Services is not named as a defendant in the suit.
Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing Purcell and Moore, told Houston Publc Media, “Workers in this country are routinely exposed to extreme danger while management and shareholders reap the profit. Profits over the safety of the workers is a short-term strategy that ultimately costs companies like Exxon Mobil much more in the long run.”
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A Wrench Being Used ‘Essentially as a Hammer’ During Repair Work Caused a Spark, Which Ignited a Fire & Explosion That Knocked the 4 Workers Back, ‘Engulfing All of Them in Flames,’ the Lawsuit Says
The lawsuit filed by Dylan Purcell and Nicholas Moore provides the first public details on the explosion and fire, which was heard by several people in the area around the Baytown refinery on December 23. According to the lawsuit, Moore and Purcell were working with two Team Industrial workers to perform a “wire wrap,” which is “a process to stop a leak by putting bolts on a flange and creating a seal. The pipe upon which the four were working and trying to stop leaking was under pressure; it contained Naphthalene, an extremely flammable and gas,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit explains, “As the four men worked, a socket-end became stuck on a bolt. One of the Team Industrial employees worked to remove the socket by hitting it with a valve wrench, and another sprayed safety steam into the work area. Unfortunately, the Team Industrial employee who was supposed to ensure that steam was sprayed on the area to prevent sparks, failed to do so. And the other Team Industrial employee, using the wrench essentially as a hammer, created a spark.” The lawsuit says the spark caused, “the flammable gas to ignite, knocking all four working on the project back and down and engulfing all of them in flames.”
The lawsuit accuses ExxonMobil of issuing the permit to perform the work “without taking appropriate precautions and despite knowing that the flange being worked upon had been engulfed in flames on prior shifts. … The permit that was issued failed to provide for flash suits, face shields or continuous monitoring by a four-gas meter to monitor the combustibility in the air.”
The lawsuit adds, “And despite the danger involved in the task, defendant ExxonMobil failed to provide emergency rescue teams or safety personnel on standby. Furthermore, defendant ExxonMobil, contrary to normal procedure, assigned the bolt removal to defendant Team Industrial personnel while at the same time assigning bolt replacement to plaintiffs’ employer, Colt Services.”
Purcell & Moore ‘Were Burned All Over Their Bodies’ & ‘Jumped Down More than 20 Feet to Safety,’ Causing Moore to Break His Leg, the Lawsuit Says
According to the lawsuit, Purcell and Moore, “were burned all over their bodies. To try and avoid further injury,” Moore and Purcell, “were forced to jump down more than 20 feet to safety,” the lawsuit says. “In addition to a body covered with burns, plaintiff Nicholas Moore also severely broke his leg.”
The lawsuit says, “Both suffered major orthopedic injury to their spines; both suffered head injuries.” According to emergency radio transmissions from the day of the explosion, three of the four victims injured in the blast were taken to the hospital by LifeFlight helicopter.
Robin Moore and Britney Purcell are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Heavy on Houston has reached out to their attorney for additional comment. This story will be updated if the defendants file a response to the claims made by the Moores and Purcells.
At a press conference the morning of the fire, ExxonMobil Baytown refinery manager Rohan Davis told reporters, “We’re ensuring that these individuals are receiving the best care possible and we’ll continue to support their families through this difficult time.”
Sarah Martinez, who lives across from the plant, told NBC News, “I was just laying in bed and then all of a sudden I felt. like, a wave. It was like a weird feeling, like a wave and then there was a rumble in my apartment and then the next thing I know, all my pictures in my living room are on the floor. I got really scared. I didn’t know what it was. It was so loud.”
Another local resident, Harley, told NBC News she thought the explosion was a “bomb or an earthquake,” adding, “It was very startling. I was nervous to go to sleep. I didn’t want there to be an evacuation and I wouldn’t know because I was sleeping.”
The ExxonMobil Baytown facility produces about 560,500 barrels per day of crude oil, making it the second-largest refinery in the U.S., according to NS Energy. About 7,000 employees work at the plant, according to ExxonMobil.
“Originally developed and operated by Humble Oil and Refining Company, the Baytown refinery began operations in 1920 while the chemical plant went on stream in 1940,” NS Energy writes. “The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, which was later renamed as Exxon, completed the acquisition of Humble Oil and Refining Company in 1959. The olefins plant at the site started operations in 1979, and ExxonMobil built another plant close to the complex in Mont Belvieu to produce polyethylene in 1982.”
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