Pipeline companies seek to dismiss class action alleging contamination from 2015 Highland oil spill

    A worker carries a torch after heating a pipe joint during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Atoka, Oklahoma, U.S., on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Gulf Coast Project, a 485-mile crude oil pipeline being constructed by TransCanada Corp., is part of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project and will run from Cushing, Oklahoma to Nederland, Texas. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

    Two pipeline companies seek to dismiss a suit alleging they contaminated land near Highland following a 2015 oil spill where 100 barrels of crude oil were accidentally released.

    Plains All American Pipeline and Plains Pipeline filed a combined motion to dismiss the complaint on April 20 through attorney Alphonse Pranaitis of Rynearson Suess Schnurbusch & Champion LLC in Edwardsville.

    They argue that the plaintiffs’ complaint does not identify a physical injury to a property where they have an ownership or possessory interest. “Indeed, the complaint is devoid of any factual description as to any property owned or leased by any of the three plaintiffs, and any specific physical injury to plaintiff-owned property whether by environmental contamination, oiling or some other mechanism,” the motion states.

    The defendants further argue that the claims under the federal Oil Pollution Act should be dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to satisfy the pre-litigation notice standards and they don’t seek recovery for economic losses from actual damage to any property. Instead, they seek economic damages stemming from “stigma” and the perception of risk held by “potential buyers.”

    They also argue that the plaintiffs’ claims are “devoid of case-specific facts.”

    “The location, nature, and extent of Plaintiffs’ alleged actual legal injuries and damages are a mystery. Plaintiffs’ class allegations are little more than a regurgitation of the rule requirements,” the motion states.

    Plaintiffs Kevin Nodine, Cheryl Morr and David Medlock filed the complaint on Feb. 15 through the Driscoll Firm in St. Louis. They allege a pipeline fitting ruptured or burst at the Pocahontas pump Station on the MP 29 pipeline near the border of Bond and Madison Counties on July 10, 2015. The defendants own and operate the MP 29 pipeline.

    The incident allegedly caused more than 4,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into the surrounding waterways in and near Highland, including the creek adjacent to Medlock’s property, over which he has exclusive possession, the suit states. The spill also allegedly contaminated the lake, which was detected by a resident who reported the spill on an emergency hotline.

    Highland is situated next to Silver Lake, a 574-acre body of water that provides the community with its drinking water. Highland also supplies water to the villages of Grantfork, Pierron and St. Jacob from the lake.

    A 12-mile stretch of drainage ditches run near the Pocahontas pump station to allow rainwater to flow into Little Silver Creek and then into Silver Lake.

    On the day of the oil spill, rainwater was flowing into the drainage ditches, causing the spilled oil to flow from the impaired containment dike at the station into the drainage ditches, toward the creek and ultimately to Silver Lake, the suit states. The plaintiffs claim the oil contamination caused damages on Highland residents’ properties and the environment. The impacted area allegedly includes 380 residential parcels and 120 agricultural parcels.

    The suit states that the pipeline’s leak detection system at the Pocahontas Pump Station was defective and failed to set off any alarms when the oil spilled into the containment dike, a backup storage container.

    The plaintiffs also allege the defendants were aware that erosion had caused leakage between a drain pipe and a catchment berm of the containment dike but they failed to make any immediate repairs.

    The suit states that while the defendants made a public apology for the oil spill, they have not compensated the community affected by the contamination. The Pocahontas Pump Station is located in a rural agricultural area about 2.5 miles from the town of Pocahontas and six miles from the Capwood Pipeline that runs from All America’s Patoka Station to Wood River, the suit states.

    The plaintiffs claim an appraisal company found that residential properties in or near an area affected by an oil spill experienced a reduction in property values in excess of 10 percent.

    They seek an order requiring the defendants to restore the properties and waterways affected by the spill. They also seek compensation for damages, fees and court costs, punitive damages and individual relief.

    The lawsuit also names John Doe 1-10 as defendants, which include unknown corporations or partnerships.

    Source: Madison – St. Clair Record