Companies to pay $7.4 million in penalties over oil spill on Sac and Fox Nation land

Two Dallas-based companies agreed Tuesday to pay a large settlement and take corrective actions to resolve claims stemming from an oil spill onto land owned by the Sac and Fox Nation.

In Oklahoma City federal court, Holly Energy Partners-Operating and Osage Pipe Line Co. agreed to pay $7.4 million in Clean Water Act penalties for an underground pipeline rupture on July 8, 2022, that discharged about 300,000 gallons — or 7,110 barrels — of crude oil into Skull Creek about five miles north of Cushing.

From the point of discharge, Skull Creek flows more than three miles before entering the Cimarron River.

Osage Pipe Line Co. owns a 135-mile-long, 20-inch-diameter pipeline that transports crude oil from a tank farm in Cushing to the HollyFrontier refinery in El Dorado, Kansas.

According to court documents, the company is co-owned by Holly Energy Partners, which is part of the HF Sinclair group of companies and CHS Inc.

Holly Energy Partners-Operating is the operator of the pipeline, which also connects to another line that runs to a refinery in McPherson, Kansas.

“Osage Pipe Line Company, LLC and Holly Energy Partners-Operating, L.P. are pleased to have successfully concluded this matter with EPA and the Department of Justice and are proud of our success to date with the remediation,” Corinn Smith, senior director for corporate communications at HF Sinclair said in an email to The Oklahoman.  “We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the federal and tribal governments and are fully committed to maintaining our operations in compliance with all applicable environmental laws and regulations.”

What to know about the oil spill in Skull Creek and the reported damage

Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department alleged in court documents that the spill occurred when a segment of the pipeline ruptured adjacent to Skull Creek.

The rupture in the steel pipe extended nearly five feet along a welded seam of one pipe segment.

“The ruptured portion of the pipe had been identified as a potential area of concern in internal pipe monitoring inspections in 2014, but that segment of pipe was not excavated and examined by defendants until after the rupture in July 2022,” attorneys for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division wrote in a complaint.

The spilled oil flowed into Skull Creek and contaminated the creek and the adjoining shorelines on restricted land owned by members of the Sac and Fox Nation.

The oil impacted soil, vegetation, creek banks, surface water and sediment on the creek bottom, attorneys wrote in the complaint.

“Numerous oiled or dead fish and other wildlife were observed in the creek and spill area,” attorneys wrote. “The variety of animals known to inhabit the impacted creek area includes beaver, river otter, deer, fish, snakes, turtles, and birds. The presence of oil from the pipeline rupture continues to be visible in Skull Creek more than a year after the spill. Oil in the creek has been observed over two miles down Skull Creek from the location where the oil first entered the creek.”

The pipeline ruptured near the intersection of S Harmony Road and E Fairlawn Road in Cushing, which bills itself as the “the pipeline crossroads of the world” about 70 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.

Response and cleanup efforts

Attorneys for the United States wrote in court documents that as part of the emergency response, the companies built a temporary underflow dam to try to block the oil from continuing farther downstream at a natural collection point a little more than a mile downstream of the location where the oil first entered Skull Creek.

The damming of the waterway caused the water level in the creek to rise, allowing oil to be carried upstream near S Harmony Road.

Cleanup efforts led to hundreds of trees, in addition to other plants and shrubs, being destroyed and removed along the creek to make road and shoreline access for trucks, boats and other removal equipment and storage tanks.

The companies, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Sac and Fox Nation responded to the rupture and spill.

The pipeline was returned to operation at reduced pressure under the oversight of PHMSA through its corrective action authority. The Sac and Fox Nation deployed tribal monitors to observe the companies’ work at the spill site and monitor for impacts to natural and cultural resources.

The companies are continuing cleanup work in Skull Creek under the oversight of the EPA, officials said.

The companies also are required to improve their pipeline integrity management program, provide additional training for all their control room operators and expand their spill notification efforts for tribal governments with land interests within the footprint of the pipeline.

“Oil companies have a responsibility to prevent harmful oil spills, and today’s settlement demonstrates that those who violate this duty will be held accountable under the law,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement. “We appreciate the Sac and Fox Nation’s steady involvement in monitoring the cleanup efforts for environmental, natural resource, and cultural resource impacts and respect the Nation’s efforts to be caring stewards of lands owned by its members.”

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Companies to pay $7.4 million for oil spill near Cushing Oklahoma

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