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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

State Gets First Crack at Toxic Halliburton Site

(CN) - A federal judge refused to order the immediate cleanup of a Halliburton hazardous waste disposal site that is contaminating groundwater in Duncan, Okla., deferring to state authorities.

Between 1962 to 1991, Halliburton used the site to clean military missile motor casings and recycle stainless steel fuel rod racks from a Nebraska nuclear power plant, disposing of ammonium perchlorate hazardous waste.

Halliburton says it settled with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in August 2011 to remediate the site after discovering perchlorate in groundwater from continued environmental monitoring.

But 34 Dunan residents filed suit two months later, claiming that the remediation plan was insufficient.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange dismissed the residents' claim under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which called for immediate remediation of the site.

"The court finds that plaintiffs' RCRA claim unquestionably raises issues that are outside the conventional experience of judges and that fall within the special expertise of the ODEQ," Miles-LaGrange wrote, abbreviating the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. "The primary issues under plaintiffs' RCRA claim concern the extent of the threat posed by the perchlorate in the groundwater at and around the site, whether immediate remediation is required to protect health or the environment, and what type of remedy is best suited to the site. These are all matters within the specialized knowledge of the ODEQ."

Though the RCRA could allow federal judicial intervention, Miles-LaGrange said the court's involvement in this case "would likely cause further delay of the investigation of the site and would result in substantial duplication of the efforts of the ODEQ."

Miles-LaGrange was also wary of the "great potential for conflicting orders" that could delay the cleanup if the court and the department subjected Halliburton to conflicting remediation responsibilities in different plans.

"The court finds the proper balance of judicial efficiency and administrative expertise in a specialized area such as environmental regulation favors abstention under this factor," she wrote.

Furthermore, the consent order already obligates Halliburton to cooperate in investigating and remediating the threat.

Though the Duncan residents said ODEQ has a poor track record with respect to overseeing Halliburton at the site, "the court finds nothing that would indicate that the ODEQ has been anything but diligent with respect to its actions once Halliburton notified it in April 2011 of the perchlorate in the groundwater."

"For example, the ODEQ has already required Halliburton to enact early action measures to protect public health and the environment," Miles-LaGrange added.

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