U.S. Oil Fined For Uncleaned Mess


U.S. Oil Co. recently agreed to pay a $100,000 fine to settle a 10-year-old case brought by state regulators over an oil spill at its Kimberly, Wis., lubricant plant.

The company, based in Combined Locks, Wis., will pay the minimum fine for such a case, as state officials noted that U.S. Oil has begun cleaning up the site and promised to continue. But an official with the state Department of Natural Resources added that the case was only designated for penalty after the company put off remediation for nine years.

Company officials did not dispute that they lagged in addressing the problem.

We should have acted in a more timely manner, President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Schmidt said.

According to DNR hydrogeologist Jennifer Tobias, the case began in 1992 when U.S. Oil contacted the department to report a release of oil into a drainage ditch just outside the motor oil blending plant. A warden with the department went to inspect the spill, Tobias said, but found a much bigger problem inside the plant.

Most of the interior of the building has a concrete floor, Tobias said, but two groups of tanks stand in pits that have no flooring. Piping trenches are also open to bare ground. Throughout much of this area, Tobias said, oil was leaking from threaded pipes and hydraulic lines.

It appeared to have been going on for quite some time because there were standing pools of oil, she said. Its not unusual for us to find a problem with a large facility like this, but this level of problem is rare.

The open-ground areas were covered by a layer of gravel over natural clay. The department was especially concerned, Tobias said, because the water table in the area is one to two feet below the surface. Soil samples found that the ground in places was saturated with oil as much as a foot deep.

The Department of Natural Resources directed U.S. Oil to clean up the site. According to Tobias, the company did not begin to do so until last year, after the agency declared it a significant violator.

Typical spill cases don’t result in enforcement actions,” said Tobias. Usually, the company takes responsibility and addresses the spill immediately, and DNR assists by providing technical advice. In this case, years had elapsed between reporting of the initial spill and the beginning of remediation.

Schmidt said, The cleanup wasnt as simple as just replacing a few lines and pumps. This is a very complicated operation. We were trying to come up with a cleanup solution that was effective yet allowed the plant to stay in operation at the same time. We took longer than we should have to research and implement a plan.

After DNR and the state Department of Justice initiated action, U.S. Oil removed the roof and tanks, laid concrete over the uncovered areas and dug up contaminated soil that could be removed. Between that soil and sumps pumping fluid from earth that could not be removed, the operation has recovered more than 43,000 gallons of oil. Sumps are still pumping and the ground in places remains saturated more than half a foot deep.

The company and state officials agreed that oil did not migrate off the site, and they expect what remains to be recovered before it does so.

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