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Sunburst’s Texaco Refinery

Steven G. Gilbert
Lead author: Steven G. Gilbert

In 1922 oil was discovered within the Kevin-Sunburst oil fields in Montana. In 1924 a small refinery was opened to process the crude oil. Texaco acquired the refinery in 1928 and grew to become know for producing lead gasoline during and after WWII. On July 30, 1955, Melvin Linnell tries to light his sizzling-water heater and occidental petroleum dallas news is burned in an explosion in his basement. His house is 300 ft from the Sunburst Works refinery. Texaco traces the explosion to a leak in an underground pipeline at the refinery. Subsequently, residents of another house 750 feet north of the refinery report gasoline and water seeping into their basement. Between 1955-1957, Texaco recovers four,344 barrels, or 182,448 gallons, of gasoline, some blended with water, from beneath Sunburst’s neighborhoods. (see Great Falls Tribune).

Picture: Sunburst’s Texaco refinery, shown right here through the early 1950s, was an essential supply of gasoline for WW II efforts, but at present it is completely gone except for a legacy of injury, litigation and polluted soil. (TRIBUNE FILE Photograph).

Sunburst timeline (from Great Falls Tribune)
1912- Sunburst founded and named for a way the solar bursts over the Sweet Grass Hills at daybreak.

1922- Oil is found within the wealthy Kevin-Sunburst oil fields.
1924- L.B. and John O’Neil open a small refinery on 9.3 acres immediately south of Sunburst. The refinery processes 500 barrels of crude oil, or 21,000 gallons, a day.

1926- The refinery capability increases to 1,200 barrels per day. The O’Neils sell their interests to California Petroleum Co.

1928- The Texas Co. now Texaco, acquires California Petroleum.
July 30, 1955- Melvin Linnell is burned in an explosion in his basement, 300 toes from the Sunburst Works refinery as he tries to light his sizzling-water heater. In the times following, Texaco traces the explosion to a leak in an underground pipeline at the refinery. Residents of one other residence 750 ft north of the refinery report gasoline and water seeping into their basement. Texaco drills 36 boreholes and forty eight trenches to investigate the leak and stop it from spreading.

1955-1957- Texaco recovers four,344 barrels, or 182,448 gallons, of gasoline, some combined with water, from beneath Sunburst’s neighborhoods.

Late 1956- Gasoline cleanup efforts are phased out, except at two locations close to the Linnells and a house with gasoline in the basement.

1957- Texaco announces plans to shut the refinery, which covers roughly 380 acres and has an working capability of eight,000 barrels a day. On the time, the refinery employs 105 people and Sunburst is a bustling oil city of 845 residents.

1961- Texaco closes the refinery and sells it to a joint venture of Pacific Cover and Fur, an important Falls salvage firm and Schnitzer Steel Merchandise of Portland, Ore. The refinery is demolished.

1967- The joint venture sells the refinery site to Creed Davis, who later sells portions of the property to local residents. That 12 months, Texaco stops its quarterly monitoring of wells near the site of the explosion.

1973- Texaco inspects the wells for the final time, but no evidence of critical gasoline contamination is discovered. Months later, the wells are plugged and abandoned.

1984- Federal Superfund laws are re-authorized, prompting the state to identify potential sites. The Montana Department of Well being and Environmental Providers conducts a preliminary study and site history report in Sunburst, and concludes further investigation is needed.

1985- The federal Environmental Protection Company begins a site inspection and sampling investigation at the previous refinery site.

1986- The EPA decides the refinery site does not qualify as a federal Superfund site and hands the case back to the state.

1989- The MDHES points Texaco an administrative order to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study on the old refinery site.

1993- Texaco removes 700 cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated materials from the outdated refinery site — 5 times more occidental petroleum dallas news than the unique estimate.

January 1998- Texaco requests a waiver on cleansing up soil and groundwater contaminated by the gasoline plume — which remains trapped underneath Sunburst — from the 1955 spill.

Orifice rippleJune 1998 – The Montana Division of Environmental High quality, formerly MDHES, denies the waiver, citing insufficient data concerning the extent of the plume.

1999- Texaco buys back three plots of contaminated property on the refinery site, totaling 30 acres.

October 2000 – Texaco submits to the DEQ an underground investigation and indoor air sampling survey on the extent of the plume. The survey concludes it has not migrated greater than half a block in forty five years and does not pose a well being risk.

February 2001 – A lawsuit filed in state District Court docket in Nice Falls claims thousands of individuals could have been uncovered to harmful chemicals from the refinery site and the gas plume. The suit seeks punitive damages.

June 2003— The DEQ recommends letting nature clean up the toxic plume underneath Sunburst, instead of relying on a multi-million dollar vacuuming operation to do the job.

August 2004- A Cascade County jury orders Chevron/Texaco to pay $15.1 million to the city of Sunburst to cowl cleanup costs of the plume, and another $25 million to the roughly eighty plaintiffs for punitive damages. The oil company appeals the ruling.

Spring 2006— The DEQ moves forward with a remediation plan and begins testing soil samples and homes for signs of dangerous fumes.

August 2007 — The Montana Supreme Court docket affirms the $15 million for cleanup costs, plus another $1 million in interest, but asks the state courtroom to again consider the punitive damages. Chevron/Texaco and the plaintiffs later settle out of courtroom for an undisclosed amount.

October 2008- A family who ranches northwest of the closed Texaco gasoline refinery in Sunburst sues the company, saying their land and underground water was polluted by oil leaking from storage tanks. The case is ready for trial in June 2010.

Spring and summer time 2009 — Water Environmental Applied sciences, the non-public firm employed by the plaintiffs, begins cleanup work of the third Avenue plume. In the meantime, Chevron — beneath the direction of the DEQ — launches a series of assessments, together with a 1,000 soil samples and 200 wells.

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