Brownfield to greenfield: Trees do the work in BP refinery remediation project

By Ann Knef | Aug 20, 2009

Trees have been planted on BP refinery property in a phytoremediation project.

A doe appears during a tour.

A cost-effective, energy efficient remediation project on Wood River refinery property is relying on nature to clean up chemical compounds and petroleum in soils and groundwater.

On a 24-acre closed disposal facility near the Mississippi River, BP has planted 3,500 trees in what the company calls the largest phytoremediation project ever built at any of its industrial cleanup sites.

Specially selected species of trees, which were chosen for their ability to draw out water from the site, include river birches, swamp oaks, bald cypresses, willows and poplars.

BP Wood River Environmental business manager Tom Tunicliff said the trees, planted in five groves, will break down residual petroleum compounds in the water and release oxygen. The parcel, which was closed in the early 1980s, had been used to dispose of refinery waste, he said. Remediation efforts have been ongoing since then.

According to BP, the parcel was filled with water during the great flood of 1993. And because of its bathtub-like construction, high levels of water have remained at the facility.

The company will spend approximately $275,000 this year on trees, maintenance and operation, sampling and monitoring of groundwater and reporting of activities to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The cost also covers the installation of a fence that is intended to keep deer away from the young trees.

Tunnicliff said there are approximately 20 deer inhabitants on refinery property. A docile doe appeared during a tour Tuesday.

While this mini forest in the making might seem like a low-tech solution to a serious environmental concern, Tunnicliff said a lot of technical effort has gone into the project, such as feasibility and lab studies and field tests, for instance.

Tunnicliff said this type of remediation reduces the project's carbon footprint and is sustainable.

Providing a tour of other refinery parcels that have been cleaned up or are in process, Tunnicliff said BP is working "hand in hand" with the city of Wood River in its redevelopment efforts.

"We strive to be a good corporate citizen," he said. "Our work effort here typifies that desire."

Jones epilogue

Last year, the Record reported refinery cleanup problems involving BP contractor Rick Jones of Wood River and his company Triad Industries. In 2002, Illinois EPA and BP announced a plan to clean up 840 acres at the old refinery and redevelop it for new businesses.

The plan called for Triad to clean 19 parcels, one at a time, so that Jones's development company, RLJ LLC, could lease or sell the ground.

In January, Jones pleaded guilty to tax evasion. Last month he was sentenced to 15 months in prison. He admitted to spending money Triad Industries received from BP for his own personal benefit.

Jones was ordered to make restitution to BP.

"We have received the $1.2 million in restitution from Mr. Jones as specified in his plea agreement and we remain focused on the continuing remediation activities at the site," said Tom Mueller, a BP spokesman.

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