On Friday, a settlement agreement was approved by the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware between the United States and APCO Liquidating Trust – successor to APCO Oil Corporation. After 7 years of litigation, APCO will pay $14 Million to the United States for the ongoing cleanup of the Oklahoma Refining Company (ORC) Superfund Site, the DOJ reports.
ORC operated a refinery on 160 acres in Cyril, Oklahoma from 1920 to 1984. In 1984 the company declared bankruptcy and, two years later, an Oklahoma City Court approved the bankruptcy and the abandonment of the facility.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, during its 64-year operating life, ORC placed process wastes, including hazardous wastes, in impoundments, treated them, or tilled them into the soil. Many of the impoundments were unlined, and about 100 impoundments still containing wastes as well as one waste pile remained on-site when the facility was abandoned.
In 1981, the EPA observed leachate, or water that passes through and then contains traces of environmentally harmful substances, coming from the site, threatening nearby creeks used for recreation. In 1986, the EPA found that a monitoring well on the site “was contaminated with arsenic, lead, chromium, cobalt, beryllium, nickel, and xylene.”
At that time, an estimated 1,600 people obtained their drinking water from public or private wells within 3 miles of the site. Many of the wastes were also flammable, posing the threat of fire or explosion. The site containing hazardous substances was also left accessible to people and animals.
The site was designated a “Superfund site” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), meaning it is a polluted location that requires a long-term clean-up of hazardous materials. Superfund sites are placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). In May 2010, there were 8 such sites in the state of Oklahoma alone.
The EPA cleanup has already addressed “contamination of surface water, soil, and sediments on the southern portion of the site and the demolition and removal of refinery structures, tanks, and chemicals from the northern portion of the site,” according to the DOJ. The settlement will help the EPA with the ongoing cleanup of remaining contamination.
The EPA and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality will also have to determine a plan of action to address the ground water at the site.
“Given the competing goals of bankruptcy law, which strives to minimize the financial impact on the debtor, and environmental laws, which place a premium on public health and welfare and the environment, the approval of the $14 million settlement results in a righteous outcome for the governmental agencies that are working relentlessly to clean up the mess left behind yet another corporation,” said Emmie Jaskiewicz, an attorney with the Levin, Papantonio law firm who practices in the area of BP Oil Spill litigation.
“This outcome is especially necessary where the environmental agencies risk having to cover any shortfall necessary to remediate the environmental hazards. Ultimately, it was the actions of the refining company that caused the human health risks and environmental damage and they should be responsible for the costs associated with the cleanup effort,” she added.