Kansas Oil Spill at Coffeyville Resources Refinery Blamed on Open ValveJul 31, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
Employees at the Coffeyville Resources Refinery in Kansas failed to close a valve on one of the plant’s storage tanks during emergency shutdown procedures, an oversight that allowed more than 71,000 gallons of crude oil into the town of Coffeyville, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said. But refinery management disputes that finding, claiming that an “act of God” and not human error was to blame for the massive oil spill.
The June 30 oil spill occurred as the town was bracing for a massive flood. Coffeyville Resources was attempting to shut down the refinery before it was inundated with flood waters. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management said during the flood, oil continued to pour oil into a larger storage tank, and that tank eventually overflowed. The problem was not noticed for several hours. The state’s investigation found that one valve was not closed by plant employees during the emergency shutdown, allowing the oil to escape.
Plant spokesman Steve Eames told the Wichita Eagle that employees did their best to shut the refinery down. He said that while it usually takes 24 hours to complete an emergency shut down, the Coffeyville Refinery only had about six hours to complete the process before the flood inundated the plant. Eames contends 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
At 2 a.m., with flood waters bearing down on Coffeyville, workers were ordered to leave the plant. The refinery eventually was submerged in 10 feet of water. Police and Fire Rescue teams monitoring the flood said they first noticed oil on the water around 4 a.m. It was then that Coffeyville Resources was informed of the spill.
The refinery is still completing its own investigation, but Eames told the Wichita Eagle that Coffeyville Resources employees at the plant acted “heroically”. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also awaiting the results of the company’s investigation. If the EPA is satisfied with Coffeyville Resources report, it will take no further action. However, if the report does not answer all of the EPA’s questions, the agency will ask Coffeyville Resources for more information.
The June 30 oil spill left homes and business in Coffeyville, Kansas covered in an oily muck. Coffeyville Resources has said that it would buyout homes that sustained the most damage from the spill. Already, some residents have filed a class action lawsuit against the company for damages incurred because of the spill. Coffeyville Resources has hired The O’Brien Group to help with clean-up. The O’Brien Group is a Louisiana –based company that assisted with oil-spill reclamation after Hurricane Katrina.