Highland News Leader

Highland resident files suit against oil company responsible for spill

A lawsuit seeking class-action status has been filed on behalf of Highland residents against the company responsible for the oil spill into Silver Creek.

The federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday on behalf of resident Kevin Nodine and unnamed others against Plains All-American Pipeline Co., seeking restoration of property and damages in the oil spill that released more than 4,200 gallons of crude oil into Silver Creek near Grantfork. The creek feeds into Silver Lake, which provides drinking water to Highland and surrounding towns.

Company representatives were not immediately available for comment.

The spill was discovered Friday morning, caused by a blown fitting on a 20-inch pipe that carried crude oil through the region. A resident saw oil being released from the Pocahontas pump station at about 7:45 a.m. Friday. The pipeline was shut down shortly thereafter.

Plains All-American has said the kind of oil released was Suncor Synthetic H, an upgraded bottomless sour synthetic blend. Synthetic crude oil is a product that has already gone through some refining for shipping purposes, according to Plains All-American, and the heavy portion of the oil has been removed.

Plains All-American said earlier this week that no oil sheen has yet been seen on Silver Lake, and testing continues both in the lake and at the inlet valves for Highland’s water treatment plant. Silver Lake has been closed for all recreational uses since the spill was discovered.

The lawsuit alleges that Plains All-American violated the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 by faulty maintenance and negligence. It alleges that if Plains was exercising reasonable care at the pumping station, they “knew or should have known” the fitting could rupture and spill significant amounts of oil into the waterways.

The suit seeks that the court require Plains All-American to remove oil from private properties, restore the waterways and properties and compensate the residents for the impact on their properties, both for actual damages and punitive. A dollar amount was not included in the complaint, but indicated the amount would be in excess of $5 million, not including costs. It also seeks a permanent injunction to stop Plains All-American from operating a pipeline and pump station without adequate safety measures.

The suit alleges that this spill and the recent, much larger spill in California are “clear examples of a large corporation putting profit over safety at the expense of innocent people and wildlife, as both spills resulted from the unlawful acts and negligence of defendants, and their failure to properly maintain and inspect their equipment to prevent these spills.”

The suit seeks to include as class members any person or business who can claim economic losses, property damage, impact on their business, health problems or any other impact from the oil spill.

The suit was filed by the Driscoll Law Firm, and comes immediately after the Illinois Department of Transportation has issued a corrective action order for the station in which the spill occurred. The exact nature of the order was not immediately known. Plains All-American has issued a statement that they take their responsibility seriously and implement all the steps outlined in the government order.

It makes reference to Plains All-American’s previous problems with oil spills: the company settled a multi-million-dollar case with the U.S. EPA a few years ago, after nearly 275,000 gallons of oil were released in 10 separate incidents within three years in Texas, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The causes were usually cracks or damage to the pipes or internal corrosion. As a condition of the settlement, Plains was to conduct weekly aerial surveys of its pipelines and add computerized leak detection systems on 110 sections of pipelines. Plains was required to make $41 million in improvements and pay $3.25 million in civil penalties.

Last month, another pipeline break in California spread oil over 100 miles to Los Angeles beaches. The full impact of that spill is not yet known, but is estimated at about 101,000 gallons, according to news reports.

See previous story here.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.