The Fuel Spill

In early 1994, the Office of Pipeline Safety, OPS (a Department of Transportation Organization) issued a Hazard Facility Order to Conoco Pipeline Corporation, for their “Woods River Pipeline”. This order effectively shut down an important link in the oil company’s profitable movement of petroleum products.

A Hazardous Facility Order can be issued to a pumping station, pipeline or any facility considered dangerous to the environment or general public. The order was issued by the OPS after a leak was discovered at the Raccine Pumping Station in Southeastern Missouri. Furthermore the entire 70 year old pipeline, known as the “Woods River Line” which runs from Oklahoma to Illinois was under scrutiny.

Eventually the Hazard Facility Order was rescinded, and various batches of Petroleum Products were once again moved through the antiquated pipeline.

This is where I had the unfortunate luck to enter the picture. In late August of 1994, Conoco’s antiquated Woods River pipeline, began leaking again. This time the leak was just upstream of my property, where the pipeline crossed a small stream known as the O’Day Branch. Thousands of Gallons, perhaps as much as 60,000 gallons of Aviation fuel funneled onto my farm and into the adjoining wildlife area.

Unbeknownst to me, Conoco was now placed in a desperate position of having their pipeline closed again. Apparently their only recourse was to lie about the amount of fuel spilled. (An obscure loophole in the Federal Regulations allowed oil companies to release small amounts of petroleum product ‘under 1000 gallons’ and only face minimal fines). Consequently the Conoco Mantra for the next ten years became “Less than 1000 Gallons spilled”.

However the devastating result for me, was a toxic farm and spoiled wildlife area. Consequently I lived with years of fish kills, cancer for my animals and fear for my own health. But the oil company had saved their precious pipeline.

The “Less than 1000 Gallons” Mantra was picked up by the DOT, OPS, EPA, Missouri DNR, and even the Governor of Missouri’s office. These organizations knowingly or unknowingly conspired to help the oil company or refused to enforce the law. During my ten year struggle with Conoco and the public institutions that they “bought out”, I became painfully aware of the power of an omnipotent oil company and the glaring weakness of our legal system.

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