BP, the UK oil giant, has worked out a deal with plaintiffs to keep Lord Browne of Madingley, BP's chief executive, off the witness stand during the first civil trial arising from last year's fatal Texas City refinery explosion.
A state judge had ruled that Lord Browne and John Manzoni, BP's chief executive for refining and marketing, would have to provide sworn testimony because they had "unique and superior knowledge'' about the blast that killed 15people and injured an estimated 500.
BP had argued neither executive knew anything that other BP employees, who already had been questioned, did not know.
Art Gonzalez, an attorney with Brent Coon & Associates, said yesterday: "We worked out a deal. We got everything we needed from Manzoni.''
The firm, therefore, will not require Lord Browne to testify in the five cases that are to start with jury selection on Monday.
Yet Lord Browne still could be called to testify in any of the 550 or so outstanding death, injury and property damage cases remaining against thecompany. BP has settled about 650 cases.
Mr Gonzalez's firm won the right to question Lord Browne after arguing he had unique knowledge from his trip to Texas immediately following the 2005 explosion, during which BP took responsibility for the blast. He said Mr Manzoni had to be deposed because he had commissioned an "accountability investigation" of key people within BP.
The trial comes as BP is under heightened scrutiny in Alaska for the closure of its Prudhoe Bay oilfield - North America's largest - because of corrosion in its pipelines.
Bob Malone, president of BP's US operations, is today to be questioned by theSenate energy and House transportation committees, following his appearance last week before the House energy and commerce committee.
Representative Ed Markey, a senior member of the House energy committee, remarked after last week's testimony by BP executives: "We heard a lot of 'I don't knows' and 'We haven't asked that'. Without some real answers from BP soon, I'm afraid Capitol Hill is going to become their home away from home."
Additional reporting by: Jeremy Grant in Washington
LOAD-DATE: September 11, 2006
Copyright 2006 The Financial Times Limited
Financial Times (London, England)
September 12, 2006 Tuesday
London Edition 2
SECTION: COMPANIES UK; Pg. 25
LENGTH: 354 words
HEADLINE: BP keeps its chief off witness stand OIL & GAS
BYLINE: By JEREMY GRANT and SHEILA MCNULTY
DATELINE: HOUSTON and WASHINGTON