Illinois village fights oil giant; settles

The lawsuit filed in 2008 alleged that the company and other former owners of an 8-inch petroleum pipeline failed to property cap the line once it was decommissioned more than 40 years ago.

It's quiet along Main and Atchison streets in the already sleepy Henderson County village of Lomax.

It's a court-ordered quiet.

Residents who have called those streets home for generations entered into and reached an undisclosed settlement that ended a years-long lawsuit against BP and other companies.

The lawsuit filed in 2008 alleged that the company and other former owners of an 8-inch petroleum pipeline failed to properly cap the line once it was decommissioned more than 40 years ago.

Click here
to read page one of the lawsuit.

Families and homeowners who sued complained of lost property value, health problems and ruined wells as petroleum leeched into the soil and water table for years.

One week before the residents signed their settlement agreement, and a judge ordered it sealed, Betty Worley took a reporter through a tour of her yard.

Inside the old garage, she pulled a coffee can from a shelf. Inside the can was a sealed plastic bag of coal-black soil. The smell of petroleum seeped through the plastic.

â??This is from my yard,â?? she said.

Worley keeps a schedule on her refrigerator of when the BP-hired soil testers come to take samples of the sediment. They're there every other Tuesday.

Worley admitted that she was weary of the drawn out legal ordeal.

A return visit to the Worley home a week later was met with silence. Families along the streets said that they would like to talk about the lawsuit, but the settlement meant that they couldn't.

Pipeline Problems

The lawsuit fills three large file boxes in Henderson Clerk of Court Sandra Keane's office in the small courthouse in the county seat in Oquawka.

â??I've never seen a lawsuit like this here,â?? she said.

The lawsuit names 46 plaintiffs, including residents, the Village of Lomax and the Dallas Rural Water district. The defendants include Atlantic Richfield Company, BP Products North America, Norco Pipe Line Co. and Buckeye Partners.

The voluminous lawsuit details the concerns of the Lomax residents and the back and forth between the three companies that all once held an interest in the pipeline in question.

The 8-inch pipeline was placed into service prior to 1920 and taken out of service in April 1968, the lawsuit says.

â??As the groundwater table moves, rising and falling with seasonal rainfall, the petroleum layer moves with it,â?? the lawsuit says. â??Vapors from these substances invaded the homes by way of crawl spaces, sumps, drains and cracks in the foundation. Ambient air also continues to be contaminated. Defendants have failed to clean up and remediate the soil and groundwater.â??

A list of symptoms and sickness claimed by residents included skin problems, headaches, nosebleeds, gastrointestinal problems and impaired brain development.

According to BP records, the contamination in the soil existed for decades and impacted the drinking water. Because of this, the company advised the affected residents to not drink the water. They also provided a drinking water and treatment systems to the residents, the lawsuit says.

However, some were forced to forgo their own fresh-water wells and connect to the Dallas Rural Water district's system at their own expense.

BP's Response

Court documents revealed that BP said that there were other possible sources of contamination in the soil.

The company pointed to a nearby business that cleaned commercial fishing nets. It said that Kevin Worley's auto mechanic business could have released hydrocarbons into the soil. It said that resident Jeff Roberts burned off vegetation on his gravel driveway by using an accelerant.

It also pointed to the fact that the homes sit directly in the floodplain, meaning that high river water could have carried contamination into the soil.

David Clauson, an environmental business manager for Atlantic Richfield Company had the job of investigating and cleaning petroleum impacted sights for his company. When he came to his position, he was advised that the company installed point-of-entry treatment systems, also known as POET systems, in the homes to treat the water.

â??At that time, Mr. Worley and his family had a bottled water supply provided by BP,â?? Clauson said in his deposition. â??We provided them point-of-entry treatment systems to give them more flexibility in water usage, such that they would not have to use bottled water for bathing and ordinary activities.â??

Betty Worley said that their system broke and no longer works.

End of the Road

Almost everyone in the village of 450 knows about the lawsuit. Some were surprised that it took so long for there to be a resolution in the case.

Attorneys for both sides remained mum.

Henderson County Circuit Judge David Vancil ordered the terms of the settlement sealed. Part of the agreement forbids plaintiffs, village officials and the attorneys from speaking to the media.

â??We can't talk about it and neither can any of our clients,â?? Steve Stolze, one of the St. Louis based attorneys who represented the plaintiff, said. â??At some point we will be issuing a press release or a public statement that will contain the information that is allowed to be disclosed.â??

Richard Whitman Sr., the Monmouth-based attorney hired as local counsel by the oil companies, also said he couldn't comment.

â??I cannot tell you anything about the details,â?? he said.

Whitman suggested contacting Greg Scandaglia of the Scandaglia & Ryan law firm in Chicago. Scandaglia didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

(KHQA's Rajah Maples and Kris Wernowsky contributed to this story.)