Premcor Refining and Equilon Enterprises will pay the village of Hartford $1,050,000 for release of past and future claims over pollution from refinery operations, but Sinclair Oil and BP Pipelines protest that the release puts them in jeopardy.
At a fairness hearing on March 12, Sinclair lawyer Ron Hobbs warned Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack that Sinclair and BP might wind up paying for damage that Premcor and Equilon cause.
Hobbs asked Stack to modify an agreement that village trustees reached with Premcor and Equilon, but Stack approved the agreement.
"I can see no collusion, fraud or unreasonableness in the settlement," Stack said.
The agreement calls for $550,000 from Equilon and $500,000 from Premcor.
The village sued oil and pipeline companies last July, claiming damages from an underground plume of petroleum.
The village sued separately from residents who have pursued class actions against oil and pipeline companies for six years.
Equilon and Premcor presented a settlement agreement to Stack in February.
At the fairness hearing, village attorney Merle Bassett said trustees unanimously supported the settlement.
Stack asked what the elements of damage were.
Bassett said, "Damages to infrastructure, your honor, such as sewer, streets, various municipal buildings as well as other items that have been damaged."
Equilon lawyer Richard Greenberg said the village also claimed loss of revenue.
Hobbs said, "We understand that the village is trying to recover approximately four million dollars."
He said the settlement with Premcor and Equilon "is not a large enough share given the relative culpability for the plume."
Hobbs said Sinclair has contributed to remediation of pollution through a group calling itself the Hartford Working Group.
He said the village released Premcor and Equilon from any future harm from acts or omissions related to the remediation.
"A week from now or a month from now or three years from now, if the Hartford Working Group causes some damage in its activities, damage that affects the village, the village has already released
Premcor and Equilon," he said.
"The other defendants should not be barred in contribution for any claims that relate to events that haven't even happened yet," he said.
The village could sue Sinclair, he said, and Sinclair would have no contribution rights as to Premcor and Equilon.
"Any order should specifically exempt this type of future harm," Hobbs said.
Greenberg said, "My client has been sued many times regarding the plume in Hartford and one of the things we have been trying very hard to do over the last couple of years is to enter into agreements that will have some teeth and have some protection not only for current claims but for future claims."
"The scope of this release is broad. We are paying a lot of money for it," he said.
"That really was part of the bargain for terms."
Stack told Hobbs he understood his concerns about damage during remediation.
Stack said, "If you are not responsible for it, I don't know how you get sued anyway."
"Well, you can get sued but I don't know how you get found liable," Stack said.
Hobbs said other defendants would be left holding the bag.
Stack said, "Unless you get a similar settlement deal from this village."
"I find it's a good faith settlement and I'll enter the order," Stack said.
Michael Kokal, representing BP Pipelines, said BP joined Sinclair's objection.
The village continues to pursue claims against Sinclair, BP, Apex Oil, Conoco Phillips, Atlantic Richfield, ARCO Pipeline, St. Louis Pipeline, Illinois Petroleum Supply, Koch Industries, Koch Pipeline, Explorer Pipeline, Marathon Ashland Pipeline, Toscopetro, Kinder Morgan Illinois Pipeline, Terasen Pipelines, and Platte Pipeline.