State of Alaska and Flint Hills battle Williams Alaska Petroleum in court over ground water contamination

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The civil trial against Williams Alaska Petroleum began in a Fairbanks Court Monday before Senior Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews. Williams owned the North Pole Refinery from its construction in 1977 until it sold the refinery to Flint Hills Resources in 2004. In 1985 they started using sulfolane to help refine the crude oil to gasoline.

The civil trial against Williams Alaska Petroleum began in a Fairbanks Court Monday before Senior Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews. (John Dougherty/KTVF)

In 2009 Flint Hills said that they found sulfolane in the groundwater of North Pole. The State of Alaska is accusing Williams of dumping the chemical in the ground.

"Williams would dump waste oil into these sumps and the waste oil contained this chemical, sulfolane, and it would leak down into the ground and soil below," said Steve Mulder, attorney for the State of Alaska.

Flint Hills, who has spent over $130 million working to provide clean water to North Pole residents has joined the lawsuit, claiming Williams created the problem but hasn’t helped clean it up.

"The evidence at this trial is going to show that Williams is primarily responsible for one of the largest environmental plumes of pollution in the state and since it was discovered ten years ago has sat on the sidelines and blamed everyone else," said Jan Conlin, a Flint Hills attorney.

Williams denies these accusations saying the amount of sulfolane in the groundwater isn't harmful and accusing the state of mishandling the situation. In a statement provided by a Williams’ attorney, they said:

"Had the State simply followed the advice of the best scientists money could buy, this entire problem could have been paid for well within the insurance policy Williams had so carefully put in place and Williams' plan for protecting the public would have been fulfilled." In their opening statement, Williams went on to accuse the state of playing politics and using the situation to expand the North Pole city water infrastructure. Williams also denies they had anything to do with the leakage, claiming that Flint Hills could have prevented the leak if they would have listened to the scientists. David Shoup, an attorney for Williams said that Flint Hills knew about the problem over a year before they told anyone.

"If they thought it was that dangerous, if they thought they had a civic responsibility to do something, why did they wait, from January 2008, until the fall of 2009, almost two years, to tell anybody they might be drinking water with sulfolane in it," Shoup said.

Williams also claims the state isn’t setting a cleanup standard because they don’t want to admit the problem isn't as bad as they originally claimed. In their opening they claim that if the state would follow the science, there would only be one well in all of North Pole that had a level of sulfolane higher than recommended.

The State and Flint Hills are hoping to hold Williams responsible spill and make them help pay for the cleanup. Williams said, they just want a cleanup standard set to actually fix the problem.

The trial is expected to continue for most of the month. We will continue to monitor the trial as it progresses.

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