Refinery seeks locations for new North Pole wells

Posted: Monday, April 12, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Owners of the petroleum refinery in North Pole say they're looking for locations to drill new wells that can feed the city's water system.

Trace amounts of an industrial chemical used at the Flint Hills Resources refinery have been found in two wells that provide water for the city 14 miles south of Fairbanks.

Operations vice president Mark Gregory told residents that it will take months for the company to figure out what to do for an estimated 155 private water wells that also are tainted but are outside North Pole city limits.

Flint Hills called the meeting Tuesday to give residents an update on plans for public and private wells.

"We are trying to frame up the options and pick the best option," Gregory said.

Gasoline spills before 2000 are believed to have soaked into refinery soil, allowing sulfolane to seep into groundwater. The chemical was detected last year.

Flint Hills bought the refinery in 2004. The company has provided bottled water to affected residents.

The Wichita, Kan.-based refining and chemicals company is working with engineers to develop cost estimates for a permanent solution.

One possible solution involves expanding the North Pole city water system. Another option is water holding tanks.

Gregory said he was sorry officials of Williams Alaska Petroleum, the refinery's previous owner, did not attend the meeting. Discussions are continuing with the company, he said.

"We would like to get them engaged to help us with this," Gregory said. "This is a very large, costly project and we think they own some of this."

Scientists say sulfolane-tainted water is safe for bathing but Bryon and Michele Yocum are not convinced.

The couple said after the meeting they plan to install a holding tank. They live outside city limits and do not want to wait for Flint Hills to decide on a solution.

"We are going to continue bathing in it," Michelle Yocum said. "I have a problem with that. They have no real answers for us other than we've got to wait."

Homemaker Melody Pernell said she is worried about how her family will eventually pay its water bill if her home is connected to municipal water or has to have water delivered.

"I can't afford another $50 or $100 bill," she said. "I don't even have 10 percent to save anymore."

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