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Emergency Response & Crisis Management

For more than 20 years, clients — particularly those throughout the upstream, midstream, and downstream oil, gas, and chemical sectors — have relied on Vinson & Elkins to manage high-value environmental and safety crises, including industrial accidents, and related regulatory investigations and civil litigation. These crises demand experienced, trusted advisors who offer smart, practical counsel when every second counts. V&E Crisis Management teams think, respond, and take a proactive approach to protect clients’ operational and reputational interests.

Unexpected incidents, such as a fatality or an explosion, can disrupt production, harm a company’s reputation, and result in enforcement and litigation. We understand the particular complexities of the chemical, energy, heavy manufacturing, and industrial sectors, and we assist with mission-critical decision-making every step of the way. Our services include crafting a regulatory response and conducting internal investigations to prepare for the unfortunate, but often inevitable, enforcement actions and third-party litigation, while managing reputational, brand, and operational issues. 

We have handled more emergency response and on-the-ground crisis situations than almost any other firm, including more than 40 crises since 2010. Often, incidents spark a domino effect on operations and the company’s ability to meet customer or contractual demands. A single extraordinary OSHA or environmental incident can have a significant impact and provoke increased scrutiny from federal agencies. We prepare clients for these situations by helping them anticipate unintended consequences through thoughtful, comprehensive planning.

Additional Information

Practice Highlights

  • Represented a major company in responding to the aftermath of an explosion at an industrial facility resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries; our work for this company included defending investigations and enforcement actions by state and federal agencies and boards including EPA, OSHA, DOJ, TCEQ, and CSB
  • Represented and advised a company in the OSHA investigation following a significant explosion at the company's refinery. V&E mobilized on site immediately after the incident and handled all areas of the investigation, including representation in witness interviews, responses to request for documents and discussion with OSHA on the cause of the explosion and the potential agency action. Additionally, we negotiated for a release of the site so the company could promptly return to production
  • Represented a chemical company following a process plant explosion, including the initial response, investigation, state and federal environmental enforcement defense, and OSHA enforcement defense. Responded to the site within hours of the explosion and assisted with issues related to the government response, media inquiries, evidence preservation, and investigations
  • Represented chemical company after major fire that destroyed batch chemical facility, including working with team to coordinate a response to simultaneous investigations by OSHA, EPA and TCEQ, respond to insurance claims, assist with media communications, and preserve evidence to prepare for litigation
  • Represented steel manufacturer during OSHA inspection of an employee fatality
  • Advising client on evidence preservation, media communications, and causal analysis after natural gas leak in remote area
  • Defense of a pipeline company in Puerto Rico in federal and local investigations and civil litigation involving allegations that propane had leaked from the pipeline causing an explosion that killed 34 persons
  • Represented an international freight transportation company in the defense of state and federal class actions arose from a train derailment in Kentucky and resulting spill of hazardous materials
  • Assisted Colonial Pipeline Company with its initial response to the San Jacinto River pipeline ruptures where the rupture of four petroleum pipelines resulted in the largest inland gasoline spill in U.S. history and a large fire. We successfully defended Colonial Pipeline Company in a number of governmental and private party actions that arose from the ruptures, including successfully defending Colonial in the first case to be tried arising from the ruptures. The case involved a trial group of 14 plaintiffs who claimed personal injuries and property damage, and sought millions in punitive damages. Following a 12-week trial, a Jefferson County (Beaumont), Texas jury rendered a unanimous verdict of no liability and causation on behalf of Colonial and its co-defendant. These plaintiffs were part of a larger group of 17,000 persons who have brought suit in over 40 lawsuits filed in five counties, claiming damages for personal injuries, property damage, fear of future disease, and medical monitoring. The trial was selected by the National Law Journal as the nation's top environmental/toxic tort defense victory that year, one of 15 cases in various categories receiving similar recognition. On the government side, the DOJ walked away from its multi-million-dollar penalty action on the eve of trial. We settled the Natural Resources Damage claims of the trustees for a settlement package worth a fraction of original damage estimates
  • Defended a Fortune 100 midstream energy company in multiple death and personal injury disputes arising from explosion of a 36-inch natural gas transmission line; obtained favorable settlement of all disputes