Attorney: Arkema's first crisis meeting for Harvey was day storm made landfall

ByKeaton Fox KTRK logo
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Officials say Arkema was 'reckless' in preparing for Harvey
Fire rises from Arkema's plant in Crosby in September 2017.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- After watching 10 minutes of the Weather Channel on the day Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a category four storm, Arkema CEO Richard Rowe decided the company needed a crisis call to get company updates, according to an email filed in Harris County Wednesday.

The filing, made by the Harris County District Attorney's office in Arkema's criminal case, comes a week after a filing from prosecutors that showed an Arkema competitor made plans days before the storm to ship dangerous chemicals to New York. The documents, filed as a part of the public record, is a rare glimpse inside a prosecutor's case. Rarer still are two such filings in as many weeks.

"This case is based on politics not facts or law," said Arkema attorney Rusty Hardin. "The prosecutor should have gathered all the facts before filing these ridiculous and baseless indictments. It appears this court filing was aimed simply at getting media to repeat the allegations."

Arkema's chemicals stayed on site as floodwaters crept up over the Crosby chemical plant, eventually leading to several fires and explosions. Documents from the company's ride-out crew that stayed on site as the floodwaters rose show incredible efforts to move hundreds of pounds of chemical product by hand to areas of the plant that were refrigerated after the power went out.

Arkema said its plans provided for multiple layers of redundancy if there was a loss of power. Arkema's backups included onsite generators, a nitrogen system to keep product cool and a last-resort plan to use refrigerated trucks to keep product in.

When the water overtopped all the backups, the fires began.

Many of Arkema's products require constant refrigeration or the product will degrade and combust.

Prosecutors filed the documents to ask a judge to force Arkema to turn over two sets of documents related to the planning process before the storm. Rowe's email asking for planning to begin included an attachment that included notes about the "crisis" call and the plans of the company.

Arkema didn't turn the document over, claiming it was privileged. Prosecutors say it's a summary of how the company prepared, not genuine attorney/client communication.

The DA also wants a look at what the company did after insurance company FM Global warned the company needed to address flood risk on the site that sits in a floodplain. It recommended the company create a Flood Emergency Response Plan, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have asked numerous times for that plan, but never received it, the filing said. The state has reason to believe it doesn't exist, the filing said.

Arkema North America faces a criminal charge as a company for recklessly releasing chemicals into the air. Its CEO and plant manager face similar charges.

Arkema's attorneys contend this prosecution is unwarranted and claim Arkema's plans couldn't have anticipated for Harvey-level flooding. Despite having water on the site before, it had never reached the six or seven feet seen during Harvey. Plant officials believed the multiple layers of backups would be enough to handle the storm.

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