U.S. and Illinois Sue Pipeline Companies over Oil Leak, Destroyed Wetlands

In an effort to restore damaged Illinois wetlands, the United States and Illinois are suing two pipeline companies over an oil leak.

The United States and the State of Illinois filed a complaint on Wednesday in the Northern District of Illinois against Buckeye Pipe Line Company, L.P. and West Shore Pipe Line Company for alleged crude oil discharges near Lockport, Ill., that began in December 2010, which destroyed nearby wetlands.

According to the complaint, Buckeye and West Shore violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Oil Pollution Act (OPA) for discharging crude oil on Line 257, a “12-inch, 3.5 mile long subsurface pipeline owned by West Shore and operated by Buckeye” which was designed to “transport crude oil from a Shell Oil terminal facility in Lockport, Illinois, to a Citgo oil refinery in Lamont, Illinois.”

The plaintiffs averred that around December 13, 2010, a segment of underground pipeline of Line 257 developed a hole, which caused oil to discharge from the pipeline when oil started pumping through it. Specifically, the complaint noted the discharged oil “flowed into a drainage ditch, through a culvert under the railroad tracks, and into a wetland adjacent to the Illinois & Michigan Canal.” The U.S. and Illinois claimed that around “1,857 barrels or more of crude oil were discharged from Line 257 before the hole was identified and the leak stopped.” As a result, the plaintiffs asserted that the defendants violated the CWA and OPA for the purported oil leak.

Furthermore, in the process of addressing the oil discharge, the defendants allegedly “placed sumps, booms, straw bales, and groundwater monitoring wells, and excavated trenches, in the wetland adjacent to the Illinois & Michigan Canal.” However, after this response, according to the complaint, the defendants also “discharged dredged and/or fill materials at the spill site, without a CWA Section 404 permit.”

The complaint noted that in 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave Buckeye and West Shore partial after-the-fact authorization under Regional Permit 13; however, according to the plaintiffs, the defendants “conducted activities that impacted waters … beyond the scope of” their Regional Permit 13 authorization. Thus, the plaintiffs proffered that this alleged conduct resulted in discharge into the navigable waters or adjacent shorelines within the meaning of the pertinent laws, therefore, harming the environment.

The plaintiffs seek penalties of up to $1,100/ barrel of oil spilled per defendant and penalties of up to $25,000 on each defendant for each day they were in violation of a permit issued under CWA § 404(a) as well as injunctive relief, such as restoring the damaged wetlands. The United States and Illinois also seek damages under the OPA.

The United States is represented by the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. Illinois is represented by the state’s attorney general. Various agencies, such as the EPA and DOI are of counsel in the lawsuit.