Chemical Spill at North Pole Refinery Trial Comes to a Close

Nov. 5, 2019
Williams Alaska Petroleum is being sued for the spill of hazardous chemicals into the groundwater of the North Pole. 

The state of Alaska, city of North Pole and Flint Hills Resources are suing Williams Alaska Petroleum for spills of hazardous chemicals that seeped into the groundwater of North Pole. Sulfolane was found in the groundwater of North Pole in 2009. 

The trial surrounding groundwater contamination resulting from spilled chemicals at the North Pole Refinery has come to a close, according to WebCenter11, but the judgement and ruling are yet to be determined.

Williams Alaska also was accused by the state of mishandling the lagoon that was meant to contain the pollutant.

“The presence of sulfolane contamination in the city’s groundwater has rendered that groundwater unfit for human consumption and endangers the public health or welfare,” according to a report in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Ultimately, these hazardous substances have migrated off the refinery property and have contaminated the groundwater down gradient of the refinery and within the city, including wells owned by the city and supplying drinking water to the city’s inhabitants.”

Williams responded to the accusations by claiming sulfolane was never regulated as a hazardous substance until after the refinery was sold, so there is no way to know how to mitigate the issue.

Flint Hills also is suing Williams, seeking to have the court require Williams to help pay for the $130 million they spent to handle the issue. This cost includes helping pay for a new piped water system in North Pole. Flint Hills claims Williams is responsible for more than 80% of the contamination, according to WebCenter11.

“Williams had a history of unpermitted releases,” said State Attorney David Wilkinson. “These unpermitted [releases] trigger liability under [statute] 46.03.822 because sulfolane is a hazardous substance and it is a hazardous substance for several reasons. Williams has admitted as much, DEC has determined it is and its decision should be given agency deference, sulfolane impacts public health, and public welfare.”

Williams alleges Flint Hills delayed clean up and misused funds from an insurance policy that he purchased, however. He would have helped with the cleanup had the state and Flint Hills presented a reasonable fix.

The ruling in the case will likely be finished before Christmas, reported WebCenter11.

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Cristina Tuser