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Previous Refinery Owner Liable For Contamination

Wed, 03/05/2014 - 11:02am
Associated Press

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — A new buyer of the North Pole refinery will be not be held responsible for groundwater contamination that leaked from the plant, but that won't be the case for the current owner, according to Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell.

In a letter to Flint Hills Resources president Brad Razook, Parnell said state will not lower environmental standards or absolve the company of responsibility in return for Flint Hills' offer to pay for 10 percent of the cost of a piped water system to properties affected by sulfolane contamination.

Flint Hills last month announced plans to close the plant and lay off 90 employees. Costs from the cleanup of sulfolane, a liquid used in refining oil, were a primary reason, according to the company. The company also cited a competitive disadvantage from the high cost of crude oil drawn from the trans-Alaska pipeline and the high costs of energy from a lack of access to natural gas.

Flint Hills last week said it had inquiries from parties interested in buying the plant. A company letter said Williams Alaska, which owned the refinery when much of the spill is believed to have occurred, and the state, which owned the land at the time, should be held responsible for the sulfolane cleanup, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1jOTzZM) reported.

Parnell wrote that he had no direct evidence of a buyer but had taken a "giant step" to clear a path for a sale. However, "(Flint Hills) will remain responsible for contamination after the sale," he said.

The Flint Hills letter said the company had spent $75 million on cleanup and mitigation. One-third was not covered by insurance.

About 550 homes and businesses have received some form of clean water assistance from Flint Hills.

Parnell rejected Flint Hills "attempts to shift all responsibility to Williams and the state," he said in his letter. The court decision that determined Flint Hills could not sue Williams Alaska because the issue was time-barred also suggested that "the migration and impacts of the sulfolane contamination would not have been as great had (Flint Hills) followed through with its responsibilities at the site."

Parnell also said spilled sulfolane continues to spread.

Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook had no comment on Parnell's letter. He said the company would respond directly to Parnell.

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