Refinery owner loses water cleanup legal challenge

FAIRBANKS — A North Pole refinery owner has lost its latest challenge in a long-running attempt to get a petroleum company to pay for groundwater contamination that contributed to the refinery’s closure.

Flint Hills Resources Alaska cannot pursue damages against the former owner of its North Pole refinery, Williams Alaska Petroleum, a Superior Court judge has ruled.

In November 2013, Judge Michael P. McConahy determined that the statute of limitations had expired by the time Flint Hills had filed its lawsuit. He made the same ruling this month.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that the company wants to pursue damages against Williams for spilling the industrial chemical sulfolane at the site before Flint Hills purchased the refinery in 2004.

Flint Hills was aware of soil contamination, but the company said it thought it was confined to the ground beneath the refinery.

Instead, sulfolane has since been detected in a 3-mile long groundwater plume near the refinery, leaving Flint Hills responsible for providing clean water to about 550 homes and businesses in the area.

As of March, the company had reportedly spent about $75 million on cleanup and mitigation costs. Flint Hills shut down operations at the refinery in May, citing the high cost of those efforts as a factor in the closure.

Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook indicated that the company will continue its fight. “We respectfully disagree with the order and plan to appeal,” Cook stated in an email.

McConahy stated in his ruling that “Flint Hills delayed their equitable claims for an unconscionable period of time.” He referred to his original order, which argued that the company had ample reason to explore the extent of sulfolane contamination earlier.

Flint Hills, a division of Koch Industries Inc., completed purchase of the refinery on April 1, 2004.

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