Under-Insured and Incompetent—Company Behind West Virginia’s Chemical Spill Files For Bankruptcy

BY JEFF SPROSS

Elk River Chemical Spill

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/TYLER EVERT

According to the Charleston Gazette, Freedom Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today.

On January 10, a tank owned by Freedom spilled 7,500 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM) — a chemical used to wash coal of its impurities — into West Virginia’s Elk River. As a result, over 300,000 people in the state were left without drinking water for almost five days, and numerous reports of illnesses possibly related to the spill are already filtering in.

According to an anonymous source close to the company who spoke to the Gazette, they believe the spill may have been caused by a broken pipe that allowed water to flow under the tanks. The water then froze, splitting the tank open from below. The tanks were surrounded by a retaining wall — which state officials had described as “shoddy” — but they were sitting on gravel, allowing the chemical spill to leach into the ground below.

Freedom’s filing lists $1 to $10 million in assets, $1 to $10 million in liabilities, and 200 to 999 creditors.

As of Thursday, at least 20 lawsuits had been filed against Freedom Industries over the leak. The company reportedly lacks an umbrella insurance policy, and what coverage it does have is “inadequate to cover the amount of claims in this case.”

“Under the bankruptcy code,” the Gazette reports, “Chapter 11 permits a company to reorganize and continue operating.” Chapter 11 also requires all creditors to stop all collection attempts.

As this case winds its way through the court system, the public process will give West Virginians a very good sense of what was going on behind the scenes of this company that has caused to much disruption in their lives.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

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Fracking Exports

Selling liquefied natural gas to foreign markets doesn’t serve U.S. interests.

By Deb Nardone
Deb Nardone
In recent years, the natural gas industry has plunged deeper and deeper into the reckless practice of “fracking,” putting communities nationwide at risk of dirty, dangerous pollution and practices that are exempt from many clean air and water laws. Now gas profiteers have realized that there’s even more money to be made by liquefying the gas and shipping it overseas. So what if it comes at the cost of our air, water, and health?

We could soon see more gas exported per day than we currently use to generate electricity. That would mean a lot more fracking — a dangerous process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and a secret cocktail of toxic chemicals underground to force out natural gas.

Outrageously, the natural gas industry doesn’t have to disclose what chemicals it uses to mine gas through fracking, nor are companies required to dispose of hazardous waste in a safe manner or limit the amount of toxic pollution they spew into the air. In many places, fracking has sickened local residents, disrupted underlying geology and aquifers, contaminated water supplies, and polluted the air.

But the environmental costs of natural gas exports don’t stop there. Once the gas is extracted, it needs to travel from production sites to coastal export terminals through hundreds of miles of pipelines. Such pipelines could cut across private property, scenic waterways, and public parks, putting our air, water, and land at risk. Where existing pipelines are used to transport natural gas, they will have to be expanded.

Then there are the environmental impacts associated with building the natural gas export terminals, or expanding existing terminals. These terminals will often require sensitive estuaries to be dredged to make room for massive tankers, and the huge industrial machinery needed to liquefy gas will increase air and water pollution. Expanding facilities and ship traffic will also take their toll on coastal communities, their economies, and the environment.

Finally, the energy needed to cool and liquefy natural gas to be shipped overseas leaves a carbon footprint on par with coal — increasing our dangerous reliance on dirty fossil fuels and worsening climate disruption.

Before authorizing natural gas exports to countries such as Japan and China, the Department of Energy must first conduct a thorough public analysis to determine whether those exports serve the public interest. This analysis is critical to understand the environmental and economic impacts associated with natural gas exports and to build a deliberate energy policy that protects the interests of the American public.

Our nation — and the rest of the world — can do better by finding alternative ways to power our homes and businesses. Clean, renewable, and homegrown energy exists today and is already being heavily used nationwide. In Iowa, wind power generates 20 percent of the state’s electricity. The city of San Antonio is retiring its coal-fired plants in favor of solar power, which is already creating hundreds of jobs.

Ultimately, the only safe, smart, and responsible way to address our nation’s energy needs is to look beyond dirty energy and scale up clean sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. Let’s protect our air, water, and our health by moving beyond natural gas.


Deb Nardone is the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign.http://sierraclub.org/naturalgas.  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)