State Sues Two Oil Companies over Underground Tank Violations at 560 Gas Stations

Thursday, January 03, 2013

ConocoPhillips and a company it spun off, Phillips 66, were sued Wednesday by California Attorney General Kamala Harris for alleged improper inspection and maintenance of 560 underground gasoline storage tanks across the state.

The civil lawsuit, alleged that the two companies “tampered with or disabled leak detection devices,” didn’t “maintain operational alarm systems” and “improperly handled and disposed of hazardous wastes and materials” associated with the tanks since 2006.

The AG was joined in the suit by district attorneys from seven counties: Alameda County, El Dorado County, Merced County, Nevada County, Placer County, San Bernardino County and Stanislaus County.  

Most, if not all, of the properties in question have been transferred from ConocoPhillips to Phillips 66, which it spun off last year. Both companies are based in Houston.

A statewide investigation led by the Attorney General’s office found violations of hazardous materials and hazardous waste laws and regulations at gas stations in 34 counties across the state.

Leaking gas tanks have been an ongoing environmental threat for years, especially to groundwater. California passed a law in 1987 giving gas stations 10 years to meet strengthened underground fuel tank standards to protect against corrosion, provide leak detection and plan for spill prevention.

But because of budgetary considerations and pleas from oil companies that they be free of intrusive regulation, they were allowed to self-certify rather than suffer the ignominy of inspections. ARCO sued several local regulatory agencies in 1998 who kept insisting on conducting inspections before allowing certification.

Four years later, ARCO was forced to spend $45.8 million to settle claims that it had installed faulty underground tanks at 59 gas stations. The gasoline contained the highly toxic MTBE.  

California maintains a Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) program and according to a 2005 report there were 160,000 such tanks registered in a one-time-only inventory as of the program’s founding in 1984.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Phillips 66 and ConocoPhillips Sued by California Over Tanks (by Edvard Pettersson, Bloomberg)

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Sues Phillips 66 and ConocoPhillips over Environmental Violations at Gas Stations (California Attorney General’s Office)

Officials Guard Against Leaks at Gas Stations (by Margaret Talev, Los Angeles Times)

ARCO Fined Millions for Storage Tank Leaks (Environmental News Service)

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