OAKLAND (CBS SF) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris and district attorneys from seven counties across the state filed suit Monday alleging that BP and Arco have engaged in environmental violations at more than 780 gas stations in the state.
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, alleges that BP West Coast Products, BP Products North America, Inc., and Atlantic Richfield Company have violated state laws governing hazardous materials and hazardous waste by failing to properly inspect and maintain underground tanks used to store gasoline for retail sale at gas stations in California.
Arco is a subsidiary of BP, which is headquartered in London.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and prosecutors from Glenn, Merced, Nevada, Placer, San Bernardino, Stanislaus and Yuba counties joined Harris in filing the suit.
The suit claims that since October 2006 the BP companies and ARCO have improperly monitored, inspected and maintained underground storage tanks used to store gasoline for retail sale.
It alleges that the oil companies tampered with or disabled leak detection devices, and failed to test secondary containment systems, conduct monthly inspections, train employees in proper protocol, and maintain operational alarm systems, among other violations.
The suit says inspectors from the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health obtained documents that showed that BP officials instructed their service stations in Alameda County to maintain gasoline leak detection sensors at a height contrary to California law.
The suit alleges that this resulted in leak detection sensors at multiple ARCO stations in the county to be positioned so they were unable to detect a fuel leak at the earliest possible opportunity.
Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Ken Misfud said prosecutors believe BP and Arco officials wanted less stringent leak detention standards to avoid having to shut down gas stations, as leaks can force stations to be closed for an entire day or longer and the companies consequently lose revenue.
The lawsuit also claims that the oil companies improperly handled and disposed of hazardous wastes and materials associated with the underground storage tanks at retail gas stations throughout the state.
The suit says a statewide investigation found violations of hazardous materials and hazardous waste laws and regulations at gas stations in 37 counties across the state, including 28 gas stations in Alameda County.
Misfud said the suit is seeking an injunction ordering BP and Arco to comply with state law as well as unspecified fines and legal costs.
Misfud said the fines theoretically could be large because state law allows prosecutors to seek a fine of between $500 and $5,000 for each violation for every day there’s a violation.
The attorney general’s office filed a similar lawsuit against Phillips 66 and ConocoPhillips in January 2012.
O’Malley said in a statement, “The laws that regulate proper handling and storage of hazardous materials are not trivial. They exist to protect the precious and finite public resource that is a clean and safe environment.”
O’Malley said, “When a fuel leak occurs it can contaminate the soil and groundwater for decades. We will not tolerate the dangerous and irresponsible practice of cutting corners on environmental regulations.”
Harris said in a statement, “Safe storage of gasoline is not only common sense, it is essential to protecting the integrity of California’s groundwater resources. California’s hazardous waste laws safeguard public health and this lawsuit ensures proper maintenance of the tanks that store fuel beneath California’s communities.”
BP said in a statement, “The majority of these alleged incidents are procedural violations concerning documentation. A small number of the alleged violations relate to the monitoring of tanks. None of the alleged violations posed any harm to human health or the environment.”
BP said the attorney general’s office “has been pursuing underground storage tank litigation with the refining industry for several years now” and BP, like other companies before it, has been in negotiations with the attorney general’s office to try to settle the alleged violations.
The oil company said, “BP takes compliance seriously and has a comprehensive program to maintain compliance. As soon as BP learned about the alleged violations, BP took appropriate action to address the issues.”
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)