Old Refineries Never Die - Nor Do They Just Fade Away

Jury Trial, North America

Soil and groundwater contamination is often a legacy issue for refineries that began operations early in the 20th century, and had subsequently been shut down for nearly 50 years. Residents claimed pollution of their town's groundwater against the new owner of a refinery, a major oil company. We provided expert opinion on typical standards of care, maintenance practices of the day, and leak detection practices.

Residents in a small rural town in the Northern Plains alleged that hydrocarbon contamination discovered in the town's vicinity was from a nearby refinery that had been shut down for almost 50 years. Because a major oil company had acquired the refinery operator's business a few years earlier, the residents sued the oil company. The refinery had been built in the 1920s and was one of a multi-plicity of small refining facilities that once dotted the U.S. landscape.

In such times, proximity to crude oil feedstock was a major consideration, and refineries sprung up wherever an ample supply of crude oil was available. However, few such plants remain in operation today. In this case, the refinery was closed in 1961 when the crude field had run dry, and the facility was dismantled. Fifty years later residents claimed that hydrocarbons spilled by the original refinery operator continued to pollute the town's soil and groundwater.

Baker & O'Brien was engaged to provide evidence relating to: (1) typical standards of care for refinery operations during the period 1920-1960; (2) typical maintenance practices during the same period; and (3) technology for hydrocarbon leak detection that existed at that time, compared to modern methods available today. In conducting our investigation, we reviewed early depositions taken from former refinery employees to assess whether the plant's operating practices appeared to be consistent with the standards of care and leak detection procedures of the day. Our investigation demonstrated how refineries operated under much different requirements 50 years ago, compared with current standards and practices. Our expert report on such matters was instrumental in facilitating a settlement between the parties.

Charles G. Kemp

Vice President

Petroleum Refining
Standard of Care / Litigation / Operations and Maintenance / Environmental
North America