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Parish, village file suit against oil companies; allege groundwater threat

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Posted at 10:56 AM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 20:17:14-05

A press conference is set for this afternoon to announce a lawsuit filed by St. Landry Parish and the Village of Cankton, alleging that oilfield waste has contaminated the village water supply and threatens the Chicot Aquifer.

At issue is waste and alleged contamination at the former Cankton Tank Farm/MAR Services oilfield waste treatment, storage and disposal facility. It's located near Cankton, and the plaintiffs allege it already has contaminated area groundwater, continuing to contaminate area groundwater, and is threatening to further impact St Landry Parish groundwater, area drinking water wells, and the Chicot Aquifer—an EPA designated Sole Source Aquifer.

"Despite prior lawsuits, piecemeal testing, and decades of environmental regulatory agency “oversight”, no meaningful action has been ordered, much less taken, to require a comprehensive assessment of the groundwater contamination in violation of numerous state environmental protection laws," a release from the Goodell Law Firm states. "Groundwater testing on file at the LDNR and LDEQ confirm the presence of a toxic stew of “Superfund” hazardous substances in used and usable area groundwater; yet, available LDNR and LDEQ records reveal limited and inadequate groundwater testing."

We reached out to Exxon-Mobil; a spokesman said the company hadn't seen the filing and could provide this statement for us today:

Union Oil Company of California joined with Mobil Oil Exploration & Producing Southeast, Inc. (“MOEPSI”) and the State of Louisiana more than 15 years ago to ensure that the site is properly managed and does not present any environmental or health concerns. After years of testing and analysis of the soil and groundwater, appropriate State agencies approved a MAR Services site remediation plan in 2001, that was implemented by a third party with State oversight. MOEPSI hopes that when stakeholders are provided complete information about this site, it will show that litigation is neither necessary nor productive.

In their suit, the plaintiffs allege that no significant or appropriate groundwater cleanup has ever been performed at the facilities despite prior hydrogeologic studies and governmental orders requiring it. The documented contamination at the Facility constitutes an illegal, imminent, and substantial endangerment to the health and safety of the citizens of the St Landry Parish and Village of Cankton, they allege.

"A comprehensive, site-wide assessment of the former Cankton Tank Farm/MAR Services Facility is necessary to design and implement a meaningful cleanup of the Facility and adjacent areas to eliminate the threat it poses to the Chicot Aquifer, to prevent further groundwater contaminant migration and to protect the entire St Landry Parish and Village of Cankton communities and their groundwater," the Goodell release states.

In the suit, the parish and village are demanding that the defendants, mostly Exxon and Mobil subsidiaries or divisions, do the following:

1. Accept responsibility for this environmental damage;
2. Develop and adopt a mutually agreeable comprehensive assessment plan that will identify and characterize all contaminants throughout the entire site;
3. Define the horizontal and vertical extent of that contamination both on and off site; and
4. Adopt a timeline to properly and expeditiously clean up Defendants’ toxic legacy to the St Landry and Cankton communities.

According to the law firm that filed it, the lawsuit is supported by the expert report of former LDEQ secretary Paul Templet, Ph.D., who relies on prior expert testimony and data from the public record and provides the following analysis:
1. The groundwater beneath the Cankton Tank Farm at various depths and over time has been and is being contaminated with metals, chlorides, and TDS above both background and RECAP Screening Standards.
2. Offsite downgradient groundwater is contaminated with metals, including Radium, TDS, and hydrocarbons, including BTEX and Benzene. The concentrations found in the groundwater exceed background and RECAP Screening Standards and accordingly present an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment.
3. The contaminants are characteristic of oil field operations, wastes and distribution. The sources of the contamination are the oil and gas exploration and production waste management operations and commercial waste disposal operations carried out at the Cankton Tank Farm, including leaks, spills, landfarming, soils washing/flushing and the use of unlined pits. The operators knew, or should have known, that unlined pits leak 4. Onsite storage, disposal or burial of wastes in unlined pits is not sound environmental management practice and never has been. Cankton Tank Farm onsite buried or leaked wastes will continue to contribute to contamination in the future. The operators and waste generators that disposed of their wastes at the Cankton Tank Farm knew, or should have known, that the uncontrolled unmitigated waste would migrate offsite in the past, present and in the future.
5. The contaminated site and the adjacent area and the plaintiffs’ site should be comprehensively assessed to determine the vertical and horizontal extent of the groundwater contamination and should be remediated to prevent further contamination of the groundwater by the wastes remaining onsite that are seeping, leaking and migrating, to prevent potential human exposure to contaminated groundwater and to restore the area

The lawsuit further alleges active and ongoing "concealment of the groundwater contamination and its risk to the people of St Landry Parish and the Village of Cankton."

"Defendants actively concealed their offsite groundwater pollution problem from Plaintiffs and never informed Plaintiffs of the environmental hazard they had created and its damage to neighboring properties. Defendants in an illegal enterprise with other responsible parties manipulated, mislead, and fraudulently convinced the state regulators to do nothing about their Cankton Tank Farm groundwater contamination,” the lawsuit alleges. "Nevertheless, certain Defendants brazenly concocted and put into play a covert enterprise conspiracy scheme to manipulate, coerce, and mislead local governments, citizens, politicians, and understaffed, overworked, underfunded , and overwhelmed state environmental regulatory agencies into allowing Defendants to do nothing affirmative to fix and protect the public from the Cankton Tank Farm Facility groundwater contaminant discharge and migration problem each Defendant had to a lesser or greater extent contributed to."

The lawsuit accuses the various oil companies of a long-standing effort to "exploit" the state's groundwater:

"Almost a century ago in Louisiana and elsewhere Defendants concocted, orchestrated, financed, embraced, and otherwise enabled a groundwater exploitation enterprise in Louisiana and elsewhere in concert with their sisters and brothers in the oil and gas industry to the detriment of Louisiana citizens’ rights to use, capture, and otherwise enjoy clean, safe and usable groundwater.”

We've reached out to Exxon Mobil Corporation to request reaction or comment to the allegations and the lawsuit. We'll update this story as soon as we receive new information.