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Lawmakers Seek Answers from DEC on Flint Hills

By Adam Pinsker, Multimedia Political Reporter, apinsker@ktuu.com
Published On: Feb 13 2014 07:10:47 PM AKST
Updated On: Feb 13 2014 07:13:11 PM AKST
JUNEAU -

More than a week after a North Pole refinery announced it was closing down, the fallout in Juneau continues.

A House subcommittee is seeking answers from the Department of Environmental Conservation on what could have been done to prevent the leakage of sulfolane into the ground, and improve the cleanup response.

The DEC says 14 parts per billion is the maximum amount of sulfolane a human should consume.

“I call it Voodoo science, in other words, it hasn't been reviewed properly,” said Rep. Pete Higgins (R-Fairbanks).

Higgins says oil-producing states such as Texas have a lower standard of 90 parts per billion. 

Sufolane is a colorless chemical used to treat natural gas.  The DEC warned Flint Hills about contamination at the refinery before the company purchased the facility an the land it stands on in 2004, but Division Director for Spill Prevention and Response Kristin Ryan says the agency did not know much about the effects of sulfolane.

"It’s a solvent,” said Ryan.  “It's just something that wasn't on the radar, not only on our screen, but anywhere.  Nobody at that point was concerned with its ability to contaminate ground water.”

Flint Hills pledged to continue to provide fresh drinking water to residents who live within three miles of a spill zone around the facility.  Some are concerned about the long term damage the chemical could cause.

"I know there is some concern that real estate prices could drop dramatically if there is a potential for the sulfolane issue to continue to grow,” said Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks).

Higgins says he would have liked the DEC to have been more transparent in its dealings with Flint Hills, the previous owner Williams, and the state legislature.  He offered up a long-term solution to the contamination.

"The best way to do it is bring in piping, to bring in sewer and water to those people, and lets build it out, and it's probably more economical that way."

Another hearing on the Flint Hills issue is set for next Thursday.