Huge Kansas Oil Spill Threatens Thousands in Kansas and OklahomaJul 5, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
A gigantic oil spill this past weekend at the Coffeyville Resources Refinery in Kansas has residents of that state, as well as Oklahoma, bracing for what could be a huge environmental disaster. The refinery, which is owned by CVR Resources, was submerged under 4-6 feet of water during weekend flooding when a pumping malfunction allowed at least 42,000 gallons of crude oil to escape the plant. The resulting slick of the Kansas Oil Spill is headed down the Verdigris River, and fears are growing that the oil spill could contaminate Oologah Lake in Oklahoma. Between them, the Verdigris River and Oologah Lake provide water for nine separate municipalities.
Witnesses to the disaster said that the odor from the slick could be smelled for miles, and reported that a sticky muck was covering pets, possessions and emergency personnel. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has teams on the scene, and at least a third of the homes in Coffeyville and Independence, Kansas have been evacuated.
Oil spills like the one in Kansas can lead to horrible environmental consequences, cause devastating heath problems as well as huge property loss for residents. They can devastate fish and wildlife populations for years, and can cause serious health problems in humans. Just breathing petroleum vapors can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and respiratory irritation. Those involved in the cleanup of oil spills have reported skin and respiratory problems years later. Prolonged exposure to contaminated soil or water can affect the nervous system, blood and kidneys. Animals that have been exposed to high levels of petroleum products have been found to suffer from liver and kidney cancers. There is evidence that workers in the petroleum industry have a higher chance of developing skin cancers and leukemia.
Because the refinery is still largely under water, officials concede that they have not been able to ascertain exactly how much oil has escaped from the Coffeyville Refinery. Initial estimates were as low as 1000 gallons early on, but officials now say at least 42,000 gallons have been let loose from the plant. The Coffeyville Refinery processes around 108,000 barrels of crude oil each day, and has the capacity to store 2.7 million barrels of crude oil and refined products.
The spill, which was detected at 3:55 am Sunday, occurred when the company was attempting to shut down the plant and evacuate before the flood reached the refinery. A pump apparently malfunctioned and allowed oil to continue flowing to the refinery’s main storage tank until it overflowed. The problem went unnoticed for some time, and allowed a huge amount of oil to escape. The town of Coffeyville, with a population of 11,000, has so far been hardest hit. Town officials fear that if floodwaters do not recede soon, they will have to start pumping water back into the river basin, putting all area water supplies at risk.
Heavy rains have plagued the lower Midwest for 20 days now, causing widespread flooding throughout Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. So far, in Kansas alone 18 counties have been declared disaster areas due to the flooding.