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Downstream: Dispute Resolution & Chemical Engineering: Origin of Groundwater Contaminants

Groundwater contamination at a site adjacent to a refinery led to a dispute over the origins of the contamination.  Opportune’s Chemical Engineering practice was engaged to examine the historical operations of the refinery and determine if the contamination found on the groundwater at the adjacent property could be attributed to the refinery.

Refineries typically have very long economic lives and may stay in operation over many decades.  A site may be reconfigured over time to take advantage of improved technologies or to match production to the demands of the marketplace.  For example, new processing units may be added to increase the capability of the refinery to process heavy crude oil or to produce fuel meeting more stringent product specifications.  This changing operation means the chemical nature of products made by the refinery is also changing over time.  Further complicating the picture, detailed operational records may have been lost.

Given these challenges, Opportune was asked to analyze the technologies used at the refinery in order to determine whether the refinery produced a stream similar in chemical nature to that of the groundwater contaminants.  Given limited refinery information, the Chemical Engineering practice team used historical records to identify which processes the refinery employed during the time periods in question.  Then, applying technical literature from the era, the team determined operating parameters and characteristics of the streams produced by the early technology.  Given capacity and yield data about the production processes and historical refinery documents, it was possible to estimate how much of the products were produced by the refinery and where they were likely stored.

Ultimately, the Chemical Engineering practice at Opportune was able to provide a detailed report showing the quantity and composition of streams produced at the refinery, what processing equipment was in use at different times, and how the streams were stored to determine if these products fit with the volume and composition of the groundwater contamination found at the adjacent site.

Relying upon our expertise and experience, Opportune provides legal support in a wide range of matters associated with the downstream petroleum industries. Among the areas in which we offer guidance are assessment of regulatory changes, asset valuations, analysis of insurance claims, fair value assessments, and incident investigation. For more information, click here.

Matt Flanagan

PartnerOpportune LLP