Apex Oil Appeals Order to Clean Up Under Hartford
By Sanford J. Schmidt, The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.
Aug. 2–EAST ST. LOUIS — Apex Oil Co. has announced it will appeal a decision by U.S. District Judge David Herndon that requires the company to being cleanup of a gasoline plume beneath the north end of Hartford.
The federal government, which won the case against Apex, said the company must act promptly on the soil and groundwater remedy, in accordance with a formal plan already approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Apex’s chairman said the company will abide by the judgment and perform the cleanup.
“We will proceed as ordered by the judge, but we will also appeal, because the facts of the case support our position,” said Paul L. Novelly, chairman of Apex Oil.
“This court ruling represents a victory for the environment and for the people of Hartford,” said Ronald J. Tenpas, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. The work will be performed under the supervision of the U.S. EPA.
Other firms already have begun the cleanup under an agreement with the EPA. Apex refused to participate in the agreement and was taken to court by the Justice Department.
In 2003, Shell, Atlantic Richfield Co. (a BP-affiliated company) and Premcor (which since has been purchased by Valero Energy) signed an agreement with the U.S. EPA to work together to enact measures to protect residents from potential vapor intrusion and to investigate the contamination, test ways to fix it and develop a plan to resolve it.
The oil companies collectively are known as the Hartford Working Group. Sinclair also signed the agreement but is not currently an active participant in the Hartford Working Group.
A Department of Justice lawyer said the July 28 decision by Herndon requires Apex to perform the cleanup at an expected cost of at least $150 million. The decision came after a five-week trial last January and February.
The soil and water beneath the village has been contaminated with more than 1 million gallons of leaded gasoline and other petroleum product from refinery and pipeline leaks and spills. For years, Hartford residents have been forced to evacuate when vapors coming from the contamination have seeped into homes and public buildings.
Apex Oil’s consultants believe the cost of such a cleanup will be substantially less than the amount estimated by the Department of Justice and will be incurred over a term of up to 20 years, Novelly said.
He said Apex played only a small part in the oil refining business in Hartford.
The court’s action stems from Clark Oil and Refining Corp.’s (an Apex Oil predecessor) previous ownership of an oil refinery in Hartford, Novelly said.
Clark Oil and Refining Corp. operated the smallest refinery in Hartford from 1967, when it was acquired from Sinclair Refining Company, through 1988. Apex Oil owned Clark Oil from 1981 through 1988.
Later, the high price of crude oil forced Apex Oil into bankruptcy and required Apex
to divest Clark Oil and Refining, along with the Hartford refinery, Novelly said.
Prior to the bankruptcy sale, Apex cleaned up and removed more than 1 million gallons of gasoline from beneath Hartford, the Apex chairman said. The refinery in question eventually was purchased by the nation’s largest independent refiner, Valero.
“I truly believe that Clark Oil was a good corporate citizen to Hartford,” Novelly said “When we operated the refinery, we cleaned up more than what could have leaked. Further, Clark was the only oil company that assisted the village of Hartford in the 1970s and 1980s, when the problem first emerged, while the other oil companies did nothing, despite their documented leaks.”
Since Apex divested of the refinery 20 years ago, there have been numerous
documented oil spills at the refineries in the area. Apex Oil has not operated in the vicinity of Hartford since 1988 and no longer is an oil refiner. The company continues to operate as a family-owned, oil trading company that stores and distributes petroleum products, Novelly said.
The Hartford Working Group hired ENSR, an environmental engineering company, to begin a program to protect the homes.
To date, ENSR has been in more than 170 homes in north Hartford, conducting air samples, interviewing residents, installing vent systems and alarms, and sealing off potential pathways for vapors to enter homes.
These pathways include basement cracks, utility connections to homes, floor drains, etc. ENSR regularly conducts follow-up inspections and air sampling in participating homes.
The cleanup effort also involves a soil vapor extraction system underneath the majority of Hartford.
The system is designed to apply a small vacuum underneath a large section of north Hartford and pull off vapors that might otherwise get into homes. The fumes are sucked into an underground piping system, where they are transported off site and burned off in thermal treatment units.
Clark had installed a small version of this system in the early 1990s, which residents said had a significant impact on the vapor problem then.
The working group retrofitted this 12-well system and expanded it to nearly 120 vacuum wells. This system’s primary purpose is to protect residents, but it also is helping to clean up the contamination. To date, the vapor equivalent of nearly 500,000 gallons of petroleum products has been removed from underneath Hartford and destroyed.
Besides this work, the working group has been testing various systems for removing liquid product from beneath the ground, including operating two skimmer pump wells. Those wells remove several thousand gallons of product a year. These wells, combined with the other pilot tests, have removed more than 20,000 gallons of petroleum products since 2004.
The working group has submitted to the U.S. EPA a design for a recovery system that will pull both liquid and vapors from underneath Hartford in order to reduce the contamination there. The group currently is installing a pilot test that will operate in the area of north Hartford officials believe from testing will provide the most success in removing liquid petroleum products, said Bob Miner, a spokesman for the group.
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