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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Esso fined over fatal explosion
Fire caused by the explosion at the Longford plant, 1998
The disaster cut gas supplies to most of the state
Oil and gas giant Esso has been fined $1m ($2m Australian) on charges relating to an explosion at an Australian gas plant in which two workers died.

The explosion and subsequent fire happened on 25 September 1998 at the Longford plant in the eastern state of Victoria.

Esso sign, UK
The company said it was disappointed by the fine
Victorian Supreme Court judge Justice Philip Cummins said Esso had failed to accept responsibility for the "grievous and tragic" events at the plant.

He said the events at Longford were not an accident and were the responsibility of Esso and no-one else.

Esso workers Peter Wilson and John Lowery were killed in the fire, and eight others injured. The disaster cut natural gas supplies to most of the state for a fortnight.

'Corporate speeding ticket'

The conviction opens the way for compensation claims from 20,000 businesses and insurers affected by the gas shortage.

Lawyers estimate the claims could be worth $670m ($1.3bn Australian).

Australian Workers' Union state secretary Bill Shorten described the fine as "the equivalent of a corporate speeding ticket."

Compensation claims

A jury found Esso guilty on 11 charges brought under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

In a trial lasting nearly four months, the jury heard that Mr Wilson and Mr Lowery were killed by the force released when a 12-metre-long vessel ruptured in the oldest of three gas processing plants near the town of Sale, about 80km (110 miles) east of Melbourne.

A royal commission into the disaster had earlier blamed the explosion on Esso.

Esso chairman Robert Olsen told reporters outside the court that the company was disappointed by the fine but had not yet decided whether to appeal. He said the company deeply regretted the accident.

"Esso did not and does not blame anyone for this accident, any employees or any groups of employees," he said.

The BBC's Red Harrison
comments on the legal events
See also:

08 May 01 | Business
Consumer boycott to 'stop Esso'
24 Jan 01 | Business
Exxon Mobil reaps record profits
02 Dec 98 | The Company File
Oil merger faces monopoly probe
01 Dec 98 | The Company File
Jobs slashed at new oil colossus
03 Nov 00 | Business
Oil firms: Excessively high profits?
26 Sep 98 | Asia-Pacific
Esso blast sparks energy crisis
25 Sep 98 | Asia-Pacific
Fire at Australian gas plant
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