Coffeyville Oil Spill Two-Month Anniversary Finds Stricken Town Struggling to RecoverAug 30, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
As the citizens of Coffeyville, Kansas mark the two-month anniversary of the oil spill and flood that ravaged their town, many are wondering if the community will every be the same. Between July 1 and July 2, 2007, Coffeyville was overrun by more than 71,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from the Coffeyville Resources Refinery. Now parts of the town lie in ruins, far too contaminated with crude oil to ever be rebuilt.
The Coffeyville oil spill occurred just as the town was being deluged by a massive flood brought on by several days of heavy rains. The combination of the flood and crude oil created an enormous disaster, as the flood waters carried the oil far from the Coffeyville Resources Refinery. Even after the flood was gone, much of Coffeyville was still covered in an oily muck.
The oil spill displaced more than 2,000 residents, and some of them may never return. Many homes are so contaminated with crude oil that they will never be habitable again. Coffeyville Resources has offered to buy and demolish the most badly damaged homes, and the town has said that those home sites will not be built on again. Many of those left homeless by the Coffeyville Resources Refinery oil spill have left the town for good. Others are staying with friends and family, and many are waiting for temporary housing that was promised to them by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). About 50 FEMA mobile homes have been delivered to the Coffeyville airport, and another 100 are promised. But right now, town officials have nowhere to put them. The absence of so many Coffeyville residents has turned parts of the community into a ghost town.
Even as the town struggles to recover from the oil spill, the refinery responsible for so much of the misery in Coffeyville is up and running. Coffeyville Resources had said that it expected operations at the refinery to be in full swing by September, but the recovery process has gone much faster than expected. Prior to the oil spill, the Coffeyville Resources Refinery had been processing about 108,000 barrels of crude oil each day. Presently, the plant is refining around 98,000 barrels per day.
The investigation into the Coffeyville oil spill has found that workers at the refinery had failed to close a valve on one of the plant’s oil storage tanks when they were rushing to prepare for an emergency shutdown ahead of the flood. Because of that oversight, oil was able to flow into a bigger storage tank until it overflowed. It was hours before anyone noticed the problem. Coffeyville Resources has claimed that a malfunctioning flood gauge upstream on the Verdigris River led the plant workers to believe they would have more time to shut down the refinery. But that day, the National Weather Service had issued other warnings that indicated record flooding was imminent. Still, the company has stated its contention that the flood was responsible for the Coffeyville oil spill, not employee error. But regardless of the circumstances behind the disaster, it could be years before the town of Coffeyville finally recovers from this summer’s devastating oil spill.