June 22, 2018
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Chevron to pay six-figure settlement for decades-long oil leak in Hampden

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — For several decades last century, thousands of gallons of oil leaked into the Penobscot River from storage tanks at the former Chevron facility near the Bangor city line. On Friday, state officials will release details of a six-figure settlement with the oil company, the second-largest environmental penalty in Maine history.

“It was a chronic, ongoing kind of thing,” Barbara Parker, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s director of response services, said of the oil seepage, which released more than 140,000 gallons of oil into the river from the 1940s to the 1980s. “A lot of oil had spilled over there.”

The inactive oil terminal contains four above-ground storage tanks that were operated for decades by Chevron, which last owned the property in 1986. The site is now owned by Gulf Oil Corp.

“Site assessment and remediation activities were initiated at the site in 1984 because of occasional petroleum sheens observed on the Penobscot River,” a Maine DEP document states.

Hampden Town Manager Sue Lessard said Wednesday that since the oil leak was discovered about 27 years ago, Chevron and the state have conducted a number of remediation efforts.

A compliance order by consent was signed among Gulf, Chevron and the DEP on Aug. 30, 2007, that required specific cleanup actions on the part of Chevron, she said.

The oil company had to come up with a plan that “included the cleanup or treatment of petroleum contamination located in the intertidal mudflat adjacent to the terminal,” Lessard said, adding that Chevron also paid for a steel sheet pile barrier and rip-rap that was installed in 2007 to contain the seepage, on-site water filtering pumps and the removal of contaminated soils.

Those cleanup efforts have cost the company millions of dollars.

Andrew Flint, an environmental services specialist with the DEP’s Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, issued a report in April 2010 stating that 9,000 gallons of old oil and 2,800 tons of contaminated sediments had been removed from the site.

State officials will gather at Hamlin’s Marina at noon Friday to announce the settlement with Chevron.

“Gov. Paul LePage will join Maine Attorney General William Schneider and Maine Department of Environmental Protection Acting Commissioner Pattie Aho at a press conference Friday to announce the state’s securing of a settlement for the second largest environmental penalty in Maine’s history,” a press release from the governor’s office states.

The largest environmental settlement in Maine, which totaled just under $1 million, was paid in 1991 by International Paper for air and water violations, said DEP spokeswoman Samantha DePoy-Warren.

The settlement with Chevron that will be announced Friday addresses the oil that spilled or seeped into the river before 1984, she stressed.

“This discharge of the 140,000 gallons of oil occurred over the course of several decades,” she said. “We’re looking at a time frame from the ’40s to the ’80s. Public health was never threatened and the appropriate steps have been taken at the site to remediate the contamination and mitigate its environmental impacts.”

Settlement negotiations, which took months to complete, are “tough but fair” and will help restore the river and its ecosystems, DePoy-Warren said.

Sean Comey, a spokesman for Chevron Corp., said Wednesday evening that he was not able to comment on the amount of the pending settlement or the ongoing cleanup effort.

Some of the settlement money will fund a project at Hampden’s Turtle Head Marina, Lessard said.

“The town will be creating an 8.5-acre park with trails, boat slips, a kayak launch, parking lot, and that’s part of a supplemental environmental project funded by Chevron,” she said. “The point is it’ll provide a waterfront point of access and park space for Hampden residents.”

The oil tank farm, located at 799 Main Road North, includes tanks in addition to those formerly owned by Chevron. The site is no stranger to oil leaks and seepage, which are handled immediately when they occur, Lessard said.

“In the past 20 years, there have been very large releases at this site,” a July 2006 report by the DEP’s hazardous and oil spill reporting system says of the tank farm. “The spills were cleaned to the best technology at that time, but not all of the contamination was removed. Therefore, occasionally in the spring or after large rain events, there is some sheening that migrates to the river.”

A bundle of containment boom is kept at the site.

BDN writer Andrew Neff contributed to this report.

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