Baker & O'Brien, Inc.

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Old Refineries Never Die – Nor Do They Just Fade Away

Jury Trial, United States

January 1, 2014

Residents in a small rural town in the Northern Plains alleged that hydrocarbon contamination discovered in the town’s vicinity was from a nearby refinery that had been shut down for almost 50 years.  Because a major oil company had acquired the refinery operator’s business a few years earlier, the residents sued the oil company.  The refinery had been built in the 1920s and was one of a multi-plicity of small refining facilities that once dotted the U.S. landscape.

In such times, proximity to crude oil feedstock was a major consideration, and refineries sprung up wherever an ample supply of crude oil was available.  However, few such plants remain in operation today.  In this case, the refinery was closed in 1961 when the crude field had run dry, and the facility was dismantled.  Fifty years later residents claimed that hydrocarbons spilled by the original refinery operator continued to pollute the town’s soil and groundwater.

Baker & O’Brien was engaged to provide evidence relating to:  (1) typical standards of care for refinery operations during the period 1920-1960; (2) typical maintenance practices during the same period; and (3) technology for hydrocarbon leak detection that existed at that time, compared to modern methods available today.  In conducting our investigation, we reviewed early depositions taken from former refinery employees to assess whether the plant’s operating practices appeared to be consistent with the standards of care and leak detection procedures of the day.  Our investigation demonstrated how refineries operated under much different requirements 50 years ago, compared with current standards and practices.  Our expert report on such matters was instrumental in facilitating a settlement between the parties.