Former refinery owner asks judge for lawsuit dismissal

Posted: Monday, March 08, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The former owner of the North Pole refinery has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit blaming the company for tainted groundwater.

An attorney for Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc. raised questions about the validity of the lawsuit and asked for proof that dozens of private wells are contaminated with sulfolane, a chemical used in oil refining.

The Tulsa-based energy corporation acknowledged that chemicals were spilled at the refinery but said it lacks sufficient information to accept blame for chemical leaching off the site.

Claims against Williams are barred by the company's compliance with state and federal laws and orders, the company said in its filing.

"Williams denies Plaintiffs' allegations that it negligently released hazardous substances, which ultimately contaminated the ground water surrounding the North Pole refinery," the court papers state.

James West, a property owner, sued in January, claiming that Williams and current refinery owner Flint Hills Resources are responsible for damage to the water supply, property values and health. Flint Hills, based in Wichita, Kan., bought the refinery in 2004.

West is asking for more than $100,000. His lawyer is seeking to broaden the case into a class action lawsuit.

Flint Hills' response to the lawsuit is pending. The company announced the contamination last fall and has been working with property owners to test wells and determine how widely sulfolane has spread. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation also is investigating.

Trace amounts of sulfolane have been detected in the North Pole municipal water system. Officials say the chemical is being washed out through treatment.

Flint Hills has been providing bottled water to property owners.

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