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3 Agencies File Suit Against Koch Government Claims 300 Oil Spills Occurred

Bob Vandewater Published: April 18, 1995

Koch Industries Inc. and several units of that Wichita, Kan.-based company were sued Monday by three federal agencies "for unlawfully discharging millions of gallons of oil into the waters of six states," including Oklahoma.

The Department of Justice, one of the plaintiffs in the suit that was filed in federal court in Houston, said in a statement that "since 1990 Koch and its subsidiaries were responsible for more than 300 separate oil spills. " But Ron Howell, Oklahoma affairs director for Koch Industries in Tulsa, said, "We don't agree with their numbers, and they haven't ever agreed to sit down with us to square their numbers. " Koch also said in a statement "that this is the first time the government has ever aggregated spills over a number of years to bring a claim against a company. Koch is unsure why it was singled out in this manner and repeated its desire to engage in good faith negotiations with EPA. " The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard are also plaintiffs in the suit. Their suit was filed against Koch Industries and several subdivisions, including Koch Refining, Koch Gathering Systems, Koch Service and Koch Oil Co., the latter of which is one of the largest volume buyers of Oklahoma crude oil.

In its statement, the Justice Department said one of the worst of Koch's spills "occurred in the Corpus Christi Bay along Texas' eastern coast, an area increasingly popular with college students on spring break. " "I am highly suspicious of what the agenda is here," Howell said. "The way this (Justice Department) press release is even written makes me highly suspicious. When you start talking about affecting college students on spring break, you're trying to appeal to somebody's emotions ...

"One of our concerns is EPA's leak data appear to have numerous mistakes," Howell said. "EPA claims that Koch's pipelines leaked oil into waters of the U.S. hundreds of times over five years. But on more than half of these, EPA has no claim against us. Many of these alleged spills are not even listed in the EPA's own oil spill data base. " The joint EPA-Justice Department statement says, however, that the government's "complaint seeks penalties and a court order to require Koch to take such actions as are necessary to protect U.S. waters and to eliminate future spills. " The spills that the government cited "occurred primarily as a result of breaks in gathering lines caused by corrosion. " Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division, said, "Companies must take steps in advance to prevent, detect and mitigate such environmentally damaging spills. ... Our filing sends that message loud and clear. " Howell said Koch, which transports almost a million barrels of crude oil and refined products daily, has "one of the best records in the industry. " Howell said he was unable Monday to determine exactly what amount of penalty the government agencies may be seeking in their civil suit.

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