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Bakersfield Californian: Shell Oil restarts cleanup of site

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Bakersfield Californian: Shell Oil restarts cleanup of site

BY STACEY SHEPARD, Californian staff writer
e-mail: [email protected] | Tuesday, Nov 27 2007 9:55 PM
Last Updated: Tuesday, Nov 27 2007 10:00 PM

Shell Oil has restarted a system to clean up pollution beneath the Rosedale Highway refinery that environmental regulators say was shut down more than two years ago without their approval.

The cleanup system was installed in the 1990s to remove toxic chemicals in the soil and groundwater from spills and leaks at the refinery that caused millions of gallons of petroleum products and the fuel additive MTBE to seep into the ground.

Shell sold the refinery to Big West of California in 2005 but under terms of the sale, Shell retained responsibility for past contamination.

In August, The Californian reported that despite extensive contamination, regional water quality regulators never issued any formal cleanup orders for the spills and leaks, even after Shell shut down the only cleanup system on site in March 2005.

Several days after the story was published, the water board issued a formal enforcement that required Shell to restart the cleanup system by Nov. 1. The order also required Shell and Big West of California to fully investigate the extent of contamination in the ground and determine if it’s a threat to human health and safety.

The outer edge of the contamination comes close to the Kern River and a city well, both sources of drinking water for Bakersfield residents. Contamination from the refinery has never been found in the river or the well, but it has polluted shallow, privately owned wells near the refinery in the past, according to records obtained from the water quality control board.

Shell spokeswoman Alison Chassin said Tuesday the cleanup system was restarted in early October.

A water quality regulator confirmed the system was running during a Nov. 1 visit to the refinery, according to Bert Van Voris, a supervising engineer with the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board’s office in Fresno.

Shell halted the cleanup system after it sold the refinery to current owner Big West of California, a Flying J subsidiary, in March 2005. Shell has said the shutdown was necessary to build an independent power source for the system.

Regional water quality officials said they were never notified of the shutdown and only learned of it during a routine visit to the refinery several months later, while Shell has said it notified a water quality staffer verbally over the phone. Water quality officials then made repeated requests in letters to Shell for the system to be restarted immediately.

Over the next two years, Shell set three deadlines for the system to go back online but missed all of them.

Records on file at the regional water quality control board document more than a dozen leaks and spills at the refinery going back to 1987, when the facility was owned by Texaco.

The worst was in 1987, when an underground pipeline leaked an estimated 4 million to 5 million gallons of partially refined fuel into the ground.

Chassin, the Shell spokeswoman, said the cleanup system will continue to remove pollution from the ground at the refinery for an additional 12 to 15 years.

http://www.bakersfield.com/102/story/296280.html

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