A Salt Lake City jury on Wednesday was determining how much EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. should pay to compensate a New Mexico man who was burned in a natural gas plant explosion in 2004. Following six days of testimony, the EnCana subsidiary on Monday was found 100% liable for the subcontractor injuries.

When the fire occurred, the plant was owned by Denver-based Tom Brown Inc. (TBI), which was bought by Calgary-based EnCana Corp. in 2004 (see Daily GPI, April 16, 2004). TBI’s operations were merged with those of EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) in 2005.

The trial began Aug. 20 in U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell’s courtroom in Salt Lake City. On Monday evening, following six days of testimony, the jury found EnCana 100% liable for Michael Melton’s injuries. The jury now is determining damages and a possible punitive judgment against EnCana.

In court documents, Melton said he and his crew were servicing some tanks at a Lisbon Valley, UT, gas plant near Moab on July 11, 2004. Melton claimed he and his crew descended into a tank’s concrete container to clean a natural gas drain sump. After cleaning the tank, Melton said a then-TBI employee told Melton and a co-worker, who was Melton’s son, that a small amount of water in the tank needed to be vacuumed out. Melton said he was putting on earplugs when he heard a noise and felt the force of an explosion. Melton said he managed to push his son out of the way of a flash fire that occurred following the explosion, but he was thrown into the tank wall and was burned.

In his lawsuit, Melton claimed the plant’s employees had allowed natural gas to enter the tank through an open valve, which led to the fire and the injuries. EnCana countered that Melton had failed to use precautionary safety measures before cleaning the tank. An EnCana expert witness testified in the first phase of the trial that static electricity from a hose was improperly hooked up to the subcontractor’s vacuum truck, which ignited the blaze.

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