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Gov. Parnell rinses sulfolane liability from future Flint Hills Refinery purchase

Dermot Cole
Governor Sean Parnell announced Thursday that any company purchasing the Flint Hills Refinery in North Pole would not be liable for cleanup of historic sulfolane pollution. Courtesy Flint Hills Resources Alaska

FAIRBANKS -- In an announcement that could clear a major obstacle to any sale of the Flint Hills Refinery in North Pole, Gov. Sean Parnell said that a company buying the refinery would not be on the hook for cleanup costs stemming from spills in years past.

What this decision, which Parnell announced on his Facebook page, will mean in terms of how legal liability will be apportioned, is not clear. But it narrows the number of responsible parties for cleanup to Flint Hills, the state and Williams Alaska Petroleum, the company that owned the refinery until 2004, when it was bought by Flint Hills, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.

Parnell's decision means that if a new company steps in, that firm would not have to pay for cleaning soil, groundwater or supplying drinking water to homes nearby.

Parnell said he has been meeting almost every day with officials from state departments on the issue. A meeting of the Alaska Railroad Board on Thursday featured several appeals from board members for state action in the situation.

"Today, I agreed the State would be willing to absolve a third party purchaser of the Flint Hills Refinery from environmental liability to the state relating to historic spills at the site," Parnell said.

Contact Dermot Cole at dermot(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcole