Alaska News

Trial opens over chemical contamination of Alaska well water

FAIRBANKS — The state of Alaska and two companies have gone to trial to determine who will be held responsible for water contamination in the community of North Pole.

Opening arguments began Monday concerning the spill of the chemical sulfolane, which seeped into wells near the North Pole Refinery in 2009, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported .

Williams Alaska Petroleum engaged in unpermitted releases before selling the refinery to Flint Hills Resources in 2004, Alaska Chief Assistant Attorney General Steve Mulder said.

"Evidence will show that Williams polluted the state's land and waters, then sold the refinery and left," Mulder said. "Since 2010, nearly a decade ago, Williams has ignored the state's demand to help remediate the problem it created. That's why we're here; that's why this is not an ordinary environmental case."

The sulfolane was not disclosed in the sale, and Williams Petroleum has not contributed to cleanup efforts during the years of litigation, Flint Hills Resources attorney Jan Conlin said.

"They blamed the state, they blamed the city, they blamed Flint Hills, and they blamed the citizens of the North Pole community," Conlin said.

Sulfolane is not considered a hazardous chemical by the state, nor was it a regulated chemical at the time of the spill, Williams Petroleum attorney David Shoup said.


Neither Williams Petroleum nor Flint Hills Resources is under obligation to clean the spill as the state has not set a cleanup standard. The possible standard listed in parts per billion also has shifted over time.

“Unless there is a cleanup standard, there is no way to know what we have to do to clean up,” Shoup said.