DOJ sues site’s owners Petroleum leaked at Bessemer location

Source: Birmingham News, April 19, 2012
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The U.S. Justice Department says current and former owners of an abandoned fuel storage facility in Bessemer failed to comply with state and federal environmental orders issued after petroleum leaked from the facility located near a creek, according to a civil lawsuit.

The Justice Department filed the lawsuit late Tuesday on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management against Bessemer Petroleum Inc., Tri-State Petroleum Products LLC, and Twin States Petroleum Products LLC. Tri-State and Twin States are Mississippi corporations.

Efforts to reach officials with the three companies were unsuccessful Wednesday. The only official with any of the companies who is mentioned by name in the lawsuit, Carl “Jack” Gordon, died last year. He was a state senator from Mississippi and had owned Bessemer Petroleum, according to his online obituary in the ClarionLedger newspaper.

All three companies have at one time since 2000 owned or operated the now abandoned facility or its underground storage tanks, the lawsuit states. Twin States is now the current owner of the facility at 2701 Eighth Ave. North in Bessemer, according to the lawsuit.

The facility is an abandoned bulk fuel distribution and storage facility located on about four acres near Valley Creek. As of January 2010 there were 27 non-operating above-ground storage tanks and another 17,000-gallon above-ground tank at the site, according to the lawsuit. Four underground storage tanks and an oil/water separator were also on site.

The facility can store about 179,000 gallons of oil in the above and underground tanks.

The lawsuit notes three specific incidents, in 2000, 2008 and 2010 where petroleum or oil had leaked at the facility. In 2008, ADEM asked EPA for assistance after petroleum products leaked off the site through a storm drain and into a culvert that leads to Valley Creek.

The lawsuit does not estimate the total amount of petroleum products that have leaked from the facility. A Bessemer Petroleum contractor began work to address EPA concerns after the 2008 incident, but the work wasn’t completed. The EPA removed liquids from all tanks at the facility after the 2010 incident, according to the lawsuit.

Among the claims in the Justice Department lawsuit are: All three companies failed to perform release detection for underground piping for underground storage tanks in temporary closure; Tri-State and Twin States failed to operate and maintain corrosion protection; and all three failed to permanently close underground storage tanks.

EPA and ADEM had inspected the facility a number of times and had issued various violations or warnings over the years against the companies. In 2006, ADEM filed a civil lawsuit against Bessemer Oil in Montgomery County Circuit Court alleging the company failed to bring the facility into compliance with required release detection methods and other requirements.

A judge entered a default judgment in 2007 against Bessemer Petroleum in that lawsuit after the company failed to respond to the ADEM complaint, according to the Justice Department lawsuit.

The Justice Department lawsuit seeks a court order to fix problems at the facility and civil penalties for “past and on-going violations” of the Solid Waste Disposal Act as well as failure to comply with administrative orders issued by EPA and ADEM under the federal Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit asks that a judge order Bessemer Petroleum and Twin States to comply with orders issued in 2008 and 2010 and seeks penalties against all three companies.

Various penalties are sought based on different claims. Most are up to $11,000 per day of violation prior to Jan. 12, 2009, and up to $16,000 per day of violation after that date.

The lawsuit also states that Bessemer Petroleum and Twin States are liable for civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day for violations occurring after Oct. 21, 2010. The EPA had ordered Bessemer Petroleum to begin certain tasks by Oct. 21, 2010, and Twin States by Oct. 28, 2010, to resolve certain issues under an EPA Clean Water Act order. “To date, neither Bessemer Petroleum nor Twin States has responded to the . . . order, and the deadline for such responses and compliance has passed,” according to the lawsuit.

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