Wyoming River Protected from Old Texaco Refinery

SHERIDAN, Wyoming, September 11, 2002 (ENS) - After a seven year legal battle with Texaco to clean up the North Platte River below an old refinery site near Casper, Wyoming, compliance with the Clean Water Act has been achieved, the Sierra Club announced today.

The Sierra Club first sued Texaco in 1993 for discharging thousands of gallons of oil and other toxic pollutants into the North Platte River from its inactive refinery at Evansville, Wyoming. The refinery operated from 1923 to 1982.

Texaco agreed in 1995 to a court order that would have prohibited further pollution of the river. In 1999, after Texaco’s efforts failed, an amended court order required Texaco to construct an impermeable barrier wall between the refinery site and the river.


Happy fisherman on Wyoming's North Platte River (Photo courtesy North Platte Anglers)
The river forms the northern border of the refinery site and is highly valued as a regional water supply, fishery and recreational resource.

Texaco’s program to decommission and stabilize the 200 acre refinery site began in mid-1996 and was completed in 2000. This project involved removal of all refinery structures, including more than 200 miles of subsurface refinery piping, thousands of tons of concrete, and thousands of cubic yards of petroleum contaminated soils.

The second phase was installation of a state-of-the-art Waterloo Barrier - a patented form of steel sheet piling with sealed joints - to provide reliable, long term protection of surface water quality in the North Platte River.

Because the design barrier alignment encroached into the main channel of the river, design and construction had to preserve the flood conveyance capacity of the river and mitigation of fringe wetlands that would be disturbed.

Government entities involved with design and permitting included the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Natrona County, and the cities of Evansville and Casper.

Casper area resident Tom Davis, Sierra Club representative in the case, says the impermeable barrier wall is now in place and functioning to keep tons of pollutants out of the river.

Davis said, ”As a result of its installation, tons of pollutants entering the North Platte River from the former refinery site without a discharge permit have been stopped."

Texaco wishes to apply to the Wyoming Federal District Court to dissolve the First Amended Consent Decree agreed to by the Sierra Club and Texaco on August 18, 1999.

“If the court grants the dissolution of the amended consent decree, it will mark the end of a long and sometimes very difficult legal proceeding,” said Davis.

Texaco may apply to the court to dissolve the decree by showing that it has been in compliance with the requirements for a period of 12 months, and that it is subject to an enforceable requirement of a regulatory agency to prevent the release of contaminants into the North Platte through means at least as effective as the requirements of the Amended Decree.

Texaco has supplied monthly reports to Reed Zars, Sierra Club’s attorney in the case, showing that Texaco has been in compliance for a period of over 29 consecutive months.

A 1998 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report detailing environmental contaminants on the refinery site and their effect on the nesting success of aquatic birds. The ponds at the inactive refinery provide a source of water to aquatic birds in an otherwise arid landscape.

The study found slightly elevated levels of chromium and arsenic. Boron and selenium concentrations were slightly elevated in samples from the ponds, but were not found to be biomagnifying. Concentrations are naturally occurring rather than the result of any processes conducted by Texaco, the study found.

“Those who were represented in the lawsuit can be very pleased that our goals of protecting the North Platte, whose waters we use for drinking, irrigation and recreation, have been accomplished,” Davis said. “From what I have heard over the last few years, there has been a dramatic improvement in the trout fishery below the old refinery site, and as a fisherman this makes me very happy.”

Although pollutants are no longer pouring into the river, the old refinery site is not completely cleaned up. “The Motion for Dissolution of the Amended Consent Decree will reflect that the land is still contaminated,” Davis said. “We are confident, however, that the North Platte will continue to be protected as an extremely valuable public resource under the terms of the Administrative Order.”

A 1995 court ordered requirement to prevent refinery waste from discharging into the North Platte River near Casper will be monitored now by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, if approved by the court.

The former Texaco refinery site is now under the ownership of Chevron Environmental Services Company after the $45 billion merger of Chevron Corp. and Texaco Inc., two of the world's largest oil companies, was allowed by Federal Trade Commission to proceed September 7, 2001.