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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Residents file class action lawsuit over 2015 Highland oil spill

By David Hutton | Apr 14, 2017

An Illinois trio has filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against a Plains All American Pipeline for a 2015 oil spill that contaminated land near HIghalnd Ill.

Kevin Nodine, Cheryl Morr and David Medlock filed the lawsuit on Feb. 15 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois through The Driscoll Firm in St. Louis. 

The lawsuit alleges violation of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, trespass, negligence, negligence per se, public nuisance, continuing public nuisance and a permanent injunction.

According to the lawsuit, a pipeline fitting burst at one of the defendant's pump stations near Highland, causing oil to contaminate the surrounding area.

The suit alleges that the oil contamination caused real and lasting effect on Highland residents’ properties and environment. The impacted area includes 380 residential parcels and 120 agricultural parcels.

While the company made a public apology for the oil spill, they have not compensated the community affected by the oil contamination, the suit states. As a result, the class action seeks to provide relief for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit also names John Doe 1 through 10 as defendants, they are corporations or partnerships, the names and addresses of which are currently unknown.

Highland has a population of 9,860 and is situated next to Silver Lake, a 574-acre body of water that provides the community with its drinking water. Highland also supplies water to the villages of Grantfork, Pierron, and St. Jacob from the lake.

The lawsuit notes that on July 10, 2015, a pipeline fitting ruptured or otherwise failed at All American Pipeline’s Pocahontas Pump Station, near the border of Bond and Madison Counties. 

The incident caused more than 4,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into the surrounding waterways in and near Highland, including the creek adjacent to Medlock’s property, over which he has exclusive possession.

The spill also made its way to the lake. It was detected by a resident who reported the spill to an emergency hotline, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit states that the pipeline’s leak detection system at the Pocahontas Pump Station was defective and failed to set off any alarms when more than 4,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the containment dike, a backup storage container.

According to the suit, the company was aware that erosion had caused leakage between a drain pipe and a catchment berm of the containment dike. The company allegedly failed to make any immediate repairs.

According to court records, the Pocahontas Pump Station is located in a rural agricultural area about 2.5 miles from the town of Pocahontas and six miles from the Capwood Pipeline that runs from All American’s Patoka Station to Wood River, Ill.

Near the Pocahontas pump station is a 12-mile stretch of drainage ditches that allow rainwater to flow into Little Silver Creek and then into Silver Lake.

On the day of the oil spill, rainwater was flowing into the drainage ditches. As a result, the spilled oil flowed from the impaired containment dike at the station into the drainage ditches and toward the creek and, ultimately, Silver Lake.

When All American became aware that crude oil was leaking from the pump station, crews tried twice to close the main pipeline valve located upstream of Pocahontas, but were unsuccessful.

Crews then applied the main pipeline valve farther upstream at Kaskaskia in an effort to stop crude oil from flowing into Silver Lake.

According to the lawsuit, crude oil was seen about 8 miles away and downstream from the pump station and in the northern portion of Silver Lake.

Emergency personnel and government regulators responded to the scene to assist with containment and cleanup.

The spill closed Silver Lake for recreational use for nearly two weeks.

In the wake of the spill, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) shut down the Pocahontas pipeline, finding that without repairs, continued operation of facility would be hazardous to life, property and the environment.

On July 14, 2015, the PHMSA issued a Corrective Action Order requiring the defendants to take certain corrective actions to protect the public, property and the environment in connection with the oil spill.

An independent third-party investigation was conducted by Kiefner and Associates Inc., which found that the spill was the result of the separation of the tubing connection; the loss of containment; and the failures to close the main line valve.

The lawsuit also notes that the spill wasn’t the first for Plains All American.

On May 19, 2015, a corroded pipeline ruptured, spilling approximately 101,000 gallons of crude oil along the Gaviota coast in Santa Barbara, Calif.  Nearly 21,000 gallons made its way through a storm culvert out into the Pacific Ocean.

The lawsuit alleges that the spill has had a detrimental impact on the environment, wildlife and properties in the surrounding area. The release of thousands of gallons of crude oil into Silver Lake caused harm to plant and animal communities, soil and groundwater, surface water and sediments, land use, and property values.

The spill also has impacted the ecosystem, soil and groundwater. Surface water and sediments also are adversely impacted.

The appraisal industry found that residential properties in or near an area affected by an oil spill experienced a reduction in property values in excess of 10 percent.

The plaintiffs seek an order requiring Plains All American Pipeline to restore the properties and waterways effected by the spill. It also seeks damages, fees and court costs, punitive damages and individual relief.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois case number 3:17-cv-163

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