More than 300 residents and businesses in Sweeny, a small town southeast of Houston whose livelihood is tied to the oil and gas industry, are suing Phillips 66 and ChevronPhillips Chemical Co LLC, claiming the petrochemical/refinery complex flooded the community without warning after Hurricane Harvey.
Lead plaintiff Neal Bass Jr.’s lawsuit claims that the operators barricaded the Phillips 66 refinery and ChevronPhillips petrochemicals facilities after initial flooding from the record rainfall caused chemical leaks. The lawsuit, filed in 23rd District Court in Brazoria County, is Neal Bess Jr., et al vs. Phillips 66 Co., et al, No. 93371.
Harvey, a Category 4 storm that rumbled ashore in South Texas on Aug. 25, stalled along the upper Gulf Coast and flooded the Greater Houston area with unrelenting rain.
Some of the 3,800 residents of Sweeny, which is about 60 miles from Houston and 20 miles inland, had flooded property, but overall, the homes and businesses escaped Harvey’s wrath relatively unscathed, according to the complaint.
“The town thought it got through the worst of it, and that their families and friends were going to be fine,” the complaint stated. “They were wrong.”
Many Gulf Coast facilities, including the Sweeny facilities, were shuttered before Harvey made landfall because of flooding concerns. After the storm, chemical and petrochemical spills from the complex threatened to contaminate floodwater in the nearby Linnville bayous. The bayous were carrying Harvey’s floodwaters into the Gulf of Mexico.
To prevent more floodwater from entering the refinery complex, the lawsuit claims that Phillips 66 and ChevronPhillips built barricades around the refineries and dammed the bayous. The dams prevented floodwaters from entering the facilities, but the waters instead inundated homes and businesses.
“These dams gave the water flowing downstream nowhere to flow, except to flood the land and people surrounding the Sweeny refinery...Unforgivably, defendants never warned a single Sweeny resident of the imminent danger upon them. Instead, defendants sat quietly, even though their hydrologists had told them the town was going to flood because of the dams.”
As the floodwaters from the bayous rose, homes and businesses were destroyed, and livestock was lost. Fields that had been sowed also were ruined.
A Phillips 66 spokesperson said the company did not cause Sweeny to flood. However, management is “aware of concerns” and is investigating the incident and working with local authorities.
“Although we experienced significant flooding in the refinery, our actions minimized the potential for release of feedstocks and products that could have negatively impacted the community and the environment,” Phillips 66 said.
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for gross negligence, trespass and environmental hazards.