Chevron USA Inc. has been accused of intentionally leaving up to a million gallons of spilled asphalt oil in fields and marshes that drain into Mobile Bay in Alabama. Chevron, which owned several oil storage tanks on Blakeley Island during the 1970s and 1980s, spilled the heavy oil in October 1976. A lawsuit filed by Gulf Coast Asphalt Co., the current owner of the former Chevron property, contends that Chevron went to great lengths to hide the oil when the property was sold in 1993. Gulf Coast Asphalt stores asphalt oil – a thick petroleum product used to coat roads and rooftops – and other products at the site.
The Mobile Press-Register reported at the time of the spill that about a knee-deep layer of asphalt oil from the 4.2 million-gallon spill spread across a stretch of road between the U.S. 90 Causeway and the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge. Chevron documents, entered as evidence in the case, suggest that company officials chose not to clean up all of the oil in marshy areas because of the cost. The company knew as early as 1978, according to the documents, that the cleanup attempt had failed to recover at least a third of the spilled asphalt. An internal Chevron memo, written in 1978 by the former plant manager, reads:
We now find that with each rain, considerable amounts of asphalt flow out of the marsh and come to rest in the area east of Highway 90.
The documents revealed that the manager was worried that “the media” would discover the oil in drainage ditches along the roadway, which drain into Mobile Bay. The spilled asphalt oil was rediscovered in 2002 after Gulf Coast Asphalt decided to construct new oil storage tanks on a section of the property where Chevron had three tanks, including the one that failed in 1976. All that remained of the Chevron tanks were the concrete pads they sat upon. A pre-construction inspection revealed that the ground on the property was so thick with oil that it could not be built upon, according to Russell Lloyd, a Houston-based lawyer, representing Gulf Coast Asphalt.
It’s alleged in the complaint that “oil erupts to the surface as the water table rises and falls, depending on the weather and rainfall.” A Press-Register examination of the site last month reportedly found large amounts of a gooey, black, tar-like substance at numerous locations throughout the 75,000-square-foot property. In particular, a layer of oil several inches thick was said to be visible floating on top of six large holes punched into the concrete pads during the 2002 inspection. It was reported that black oil could be seen floating on top of water in numerous ditches in the area, including roadside ditches that drain into the Mobile River and the Bay.
Source: Mobile Press-Register
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