The San Diego Union-Tribune: Shell Oil to pay $1 million for cleanup: Contamination runs under stadium property: “Shell Oil has agreed to pay $1 million to the city of San Diego to clean up some of the underground pollution at Qualcomm Stadium”: “Soil and water at the city-owned site have been contaminated by fuel leaking from two tank farms near the stadium, and the city is negotiating with a Houston energy company on cleaning up the problem.”: “Richard Opper, a private attorney the city hired to work on the Qualcomm contamination case, said the gasoline contains a noxious additive that is intended to reduce smog emissions. Methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, is a carcinogen that seeps through soil more quickly than gasoline and has found its way into groundwater beneath the stadium property, Opper said.” (ShellNews.net) 24 Dec 04
By Ronald W. Powell
December 24, 2004
Shell Oil has agreed to pay $1 million to the city of San Diego to clean up some of the underground pollution at Qualcomm Stadium and its parking lot, but that's just one part of the effort to get the site ready for possible development.
The settlement, completed last month, removes Shell Oil Products U.S. from any responsibility in the cleanup of two plumes of contamination that run beneath the stadium property.
Soil and water at the city-owned site have been contaminated by fuel leaking from two tank farms near the stadium, and the city is negotiating with a Houston energy company on cleaning up the problem.
The cleanup must be done if the San Diego Chargers' proposal for a new stadium, housing and businesses at the 166-acre site is to move forward. The team wants to put its redevelopment plan before voters in November 2006.
The city also wants the cleanup so an aquifer beneath the property can be tapped for drinking water, Deputy City Attorney Frank Devaney said.
"At long last we're addressing this thing," Devaney said, adding that the Shell settlement is "a great first step."
The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued the first of several cleanup orders for the property in 1992, but a lack of responsiveness to the orders and legal squabbling among several oil companies has slowed the work.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners of Houston owns the more than 60-acre Mission Valley Terminal, which includes the two tank farms.
Shell leases and operates the smaller of the tank farms on Rancho Mission Road. Most of the contamination has been traced to the larger tank farm on the hill north of the stadium.
In October 2003, an arbitrator ruled that the Shell site has not contributed to the larger pool of contamination, and the most efficient way to handle the problem was to make Kinder Morgan responsible for cleaning up both plumes.
The arbitrator also ruled that Shell should pay Kinder Morgan $500,000 to clean up diesel fuel that seeped from its tank farm. The contamination from the tanks and pipes Shell leases created the plume that is 175 feet long and 125 feet wide and juts into the Qualcomm property in the shape of a finger, Devaney said.
That plume is dwarfed by the second swath of contamination that flows downhill from the Kinder Morgan tank farm. It has traveled beneath Friars Road and under the parking lot and stadium to the San Diego River.
Kinder Morgan bought the terminal in 1998 and operates about half of the 29 tanks, with the remainder leased to other oil companies.
Rick Rainey, a Kinder Morgan spokesman, said cleanup of the larger plume is under way. The company has erected barriers to prevent more pollution from migrating to the stadium site and has installed nine vapor extraction wells to help remove some of the pollution by air, he said.
Rainey could not provide a schedule for completing the cleanup or estimate how much it will cost. In a March 2003 ruling, the arbitrator in a lawsuit filed by Kinder Morgan against Texaco and Shell oil companies said completion of the cleanup would cost $26 million. Texaco was the previous operator on the Shell leasehold.
"We're in the process of satisfying the water board's (cleanup) order now," he said.
As part of the city's settlement with Shell, the oil company has agreed to make its attorneys and scientific experts who have examined contamination at Qualcomm available to the city should it decide to sue Kinder Morgan to prod cleanup, Devaney said. Shell also is giving the city access to thousands of pages of scientific documents about the pollution.
"Shell approached the city because we saw the benefit of the city getting the remediation under way," Cameron Smyth, a Shell spokesman, said. "While we did not cause or are responsible for the contamination, we wanted to be good neighbors and expedite the cleanup of that plume."
City officials said the majority of pollutants that seeped from Shell's leasehold is diesel fuel found at shallow levels and is not considered a serious hazard.
The gasoline that spread south under Friars Road, the stadium parking lot and the stadium is another matter.
Richard Opper, a private attorney the city hired to work on the Qualcomm contamination case, said the gasoline contains a noxious additive that is intended to reduce smog emissions. Methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, is a carcinogen that seeps through soil more quickly than gasoline and has found its way into groundwater beneath the stadium property, Opper said.
The concentration of MTBE in the larger plume ranges from 5 parts per billion to 1,000 parts per billion. According to California clean water standards, the presence of MTBE above 13 parts per billion is unsafe for drinking. The acceptable standard for taste and odor is 5 parts per billion.
Concentrations of MTBE from 5 to 10 parts per billion also have been found in the smaller plume from the Shell leasehold.
The water quality control board also has found benzene, toluene and other chemicals in the groundwater.
Marsi Steirer, deputy director of the city Water Department, said the Mission Valley aquifer beneath the stadium could provide up to 3 million gallons of drinking water a day for city residents – if the contamination is removed.
"With imported water becoming less available and more expensive, we are looking for new water supplies," Steirer said. "This could be used for part of our local supply."
Meanwhile, the Chargers are touting a redevelopment plan for the Qualcomm site that includes a $400 million stadium, housing, a hotel, offices and restaurants. The team wants the city to turn over 60 of the 166 acres at the stadium site at no cost and borrow $175 million to cover public improvements such as roads and parks.
Development in wings
City officials said neither the water project nor any development at the site can be accomplished without a cleanup of the contamination.
"Those are the issues that are driving our discussions," Opper said of the ongoing negotiations with Kinder Morgan.
Kinder Morgan believes sufficient cleanup has occurred for the city to use the groundwater after a normal treatment process and for development of the site to occur, Rainey said.
Officials for the city and water board disagree.
Councilwoman Donna Frye, whose district includes the stadium, said she is concerned the pollution has entered the San Diego River and could affect the ecosystem.
"The contamination is quite serious, and I don't agree with the analysis that the groundwater meets drinking standards," said Frye, who would like the stadium property developed into a park.
Devaney said Kinder Morgan has maintained in negotiations that the city has not been damaged by the pollution.
"Our property is soaked with oil for about a mile in length," Devaney said. "The only reason they're doing any work over there is under threat of litigation."
The stadium site has been one of the most vexing cleanup cases in the San Diego region, said John Robertus, executive director of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.
"Back in 1992, when the first cleanup order was issued, there were multiple parties involved, and they were more interested in fighting among each other and casting blame than abating the (contamination) sources," Robertus said.
The groundwater cannot be used for drinking unless gasoline is removed from the soil and the water, he said. As for development, Robertus said, environmental studies required by the state will determine how much additional cleanup would be necessary.
Robertus said there should be a public discussion about whether the tank farm north of the stadium should be relocated. With a vast system of underground pipes leading to tanks, he said, leaks are likely to occur again.
"What if they have another big spill?" Robertus said. "Is it good to have a tank farm next to a major river or near the crossroads of a major transportation corridor?"
Ronald W. Powell: (619) 718-5070; firstname.lastname@example.org