An explosion occurred at the Grande Paroisse industrial site in the city of Toulouse in France on September 21, 2001. Grande Paroisse, a former subsidiary of Atofina which became a subsidiary of Elf Aquitaine Fertilisants on December 31, 2004, as part of the reorganization of the Chemicals segment, was principally engaged in the production and sale of agricultural fertilizers. The explosion, which involved a stockpile of ammonium nitrate pellets, destroyed a portion of the site and caused the death of thirty-one people, including twenty-one workers at the site, and injured many others. The explosion also caused significant damage to certain property in part of the city of Toulouse.
This plant has been closed and individual assistance packages have been provided for employees. The site has been rehabilitated.
On December 14, 2006, Grande Paroisse signed, under the supervision of the city of Toulouse, a deed whereby it donated the former site of the AZF plant to the greater agglomeration of Toulouse (CAGT) and the Caisse des dépôts et consignations and its subsidiary ICADE. Under this deed, TOTAL S.A. guaranteed the site remediation obligations of Grande Paroisse and granted a €10 million endowment to the InNaBioSanté research foundation as part of the setting up of a cancer research center at the site by the city of Toulouse.
After having articulated several hypotheses, the Court-appointed experts did not maintain in their final report filed on May 11, 2006, that the accident was caused by pouring a large quantity of a chlorine compound over ammonium nitrate. Instead, the experts have retained a scenario where a container of chlorine compound sweepings was poured between a layer of wet ammonium nitrate covering the floor and a quantity of dry agricultural nitrate at a location not far from the principal storage site. This is claimed to have caused an explosion which then spread into the main storage site. Grande Paroisse was investigated based on this new hypothesis in 2006; Grande Paroisse is contesting this explanation, which it believes to be based on elements that are not factually accurate.
On July 9, 2007, the investigating magistrate brought charges against Grande Paroisse and the former Plant Manager before the Toulouse Criminal Court. In late 2008, TOTAL S.A. and Mr. Thierry Desmarest, Chairman and CEO at the time of the event, were summoned to appear in Court pursuant to a request by a victims association.
On November 19, 2009, the Toulouse Criminal Court acquitted both the former Plant Manager, and Grande Paroisse due to the lack of reliable evidence for the explosion. The Court also ruled that the summonses against TOTAL S.A. and Mr. Thierry Desmarest were inadmissible.
Due to the presumption of civil liability that applied to Grande Paroisse, the Court declared Grande Paroisse civilly liable for the damages caused by the explosion to the victims in its capacity as custodian and operator of the plant.
The Prosecutor’s office, together with certain third parties, appealed the Toulouse Criminal Court verdict. In order to preserve its rights, Grande Paroisse lodged a cross-appeal with respect to civil charges.
By its decision of September 24, 2012, the Court of Appeal of Toulouse (Cour d’appel de Toulouse) upheld the lower court verdict pursuant to which the summonses against TOTAL S.A. and Mr. Thierry Desmarest were determined to be inadmissible.
This element of the decision has been appealed by certain third parties before the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation).
The Court of Appeal considered, however, that the explosion was the result of the chemical accident described by the court-appointed experts. Accordingly, it convicted the former Plant Manager and Grande Paroisse. This element of the decision has been appealed by the former Plant Manager and Grande Paroisse before the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation), which has the effect of suspending their criminal sentences. On January 13, 2015, the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) fully quashed the decision of September 24, 2012. The impugned decision is set aside and the parties find themselves in the position they were in before the decision was rendered. The case is referred back to the Court of Appeal of Paris for a new criminal trial. The trial date has not yet been set.
A compensation mechanism for victims was set up immediately following the explosion. €2.3 billion was paid for the compensation of claims and related expenses amounts. A €10.3 million reserve remains booked in the Group’s Consolidated Financial Statements as of December 31, 2014.