The Daily Sentinel (Colorado): Shell’s dirty legacy leaves enviros leery: “There were a lot of practices back then that were commonly used, including those at the arsenal, that were not environmentally sound,” said Mike Gaughan, spokesman for Shell Oil Company. “We know that today ... We know we created problems out there, but we’re taking care of them.”: Posted Friday 9 December 2005
By SALLY SPAULDING
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers wants to reopen a 22-year-old lawsuit against Shell and the U.S. Army for damages to the environment at a site near Denver.
Meanwhile, on the Western Slope, where Shell has expressed an interest in developing oil shale in an environmentally sound manner, some are asking how the company can promise responsibility when earlier projects on the Front Range left a legacy of toxic proportions.
“I think it’s a fair question for people to be asking,” said Steve Smith of The Wilderness Society. “How much can we rely on the company’s promises if they didn’t come through in a different location?”
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal northeast of metro Denver was created in the 1940s by the military to produce mustard gas and other chemicals.
In the 1950s, Shell Oil Company began leasing the facility to manufacture pesticides until 1982, when cleanup operations began.
Suthers, who asked the Legislature on Wednesday for $1 million to pay for the state’s legal expenses to prosecute the case, said he is going after the case because it could not be resolved through negotiations.
Suthers said moderate estimates of damages the two entities could pay hovered in the $100 million range.
Both the Army and Shell already have shouldered the burden of almost $2.2 billion in cleanup costs at the arsenal, and the job is expected to last until 2011.
“Despite all of that cost, the state of Colorado’s contention is that there is still significant permanent damage to the environment that cannot be cleaned up,” Suthers said.
Shell is currently testing oil shale technology in Rio Blanco County at its Mahogany Research Project, determining whether the company can get oil and gas from shale in an economical fashion.
“We know we can get oil from shale, but now the effort is to see if we can do it in a socially responsible, environmentally sound and economical way,” said Jill Davis, public affairs specialist for the research project.
Smith, who has toured the research facility, said he was impressed with the “thoughtful approach” Shell was taking on the technical and environmental issue of oil shale.
“I don’t think they’re fibbing us,” he said. “I really think they mean what they say on oil shale. The very bad experience everyone had at the arsenal is something no one wants to repeat ... I bet you that includes Shell.”
Experts evaluating the arsenal’s damage to groundwater have determined most of the environmental damage was attributable to Shell’s operation of the facility while producing pesticides, Suthers said.
“There were a lot of practices back then that were commonly used, including those at the arsenal, that were not environmentally sound,” said Mike Gaughan, spokesman for Shell Oil Company. “We know that today ... We know we created problems out there, but we’re taking care of them.”
Sally Spaulding can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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