EPA moves to remove lead from Bristow oil refinery
Lead contamination at a former Creek County oil refinery is so extensive the Environmental Protection Agency says it must remove much of it soon to protect its workers.
The Wilcox Oil Co. in Bristow, about 35 miles southwest of Tulsa, contaminated as many as 150 acres with high levels of lead in the half-century between 1915 and 1965, according to EPA records. Since then, the lead has seeped into adjacent waterways.
The EPA added the site to its national priorities list for Superfund sites in late 2013. Last week, it announced its desire to begin removing lead at the site sooner than scheduled.
“The current action is being taken to both protect worker safety and to prevent further migration of lead into the environment,” said Cynthia Fanning, a regional EPA spokeswoman.
The EPA will host a public meeting Tuesday night at Bristow’s town library to inform residents of the work and its proposed cleanup strategy. The public will have 30 days to comment before a final decision is made. Funding for the work has not yet been received.
The EPA doesn't know the extent of lead contamination at the Superfund site or whether the property can ever be repurposed. Superfund cleanup often spans decades.
Once lead is excavated from the Wilcox site, it will be transported to a yet undetermined waste facility capable of handling such contaminants. Fanning said the facility is likely to be located in the Tulsa area.
“(The) proposed plan efficiently utilizes
resources and addresses the highest risks first for Creek County, Oklahoma,” said regional EPA administrator Anne Idsal in a news release last week.
In addition to lead, environmental damage was caused by oil at the site. During the first half of the 20th century, crude oil was often stored in bottomless tanks, allowing it to seep directly into the ground. The EPA says it has removed 1,349 tons of oil waste from the area to date.
Pre-emptive cleanup actions, like the one being proposed at the Wilcox site, were recommended by the Superfund Task Force, a group convened by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last May and tasked with determining how to expedite Superfund work.
The head of the Superfund Task Force was Albert Kelly, a native of Bristow whose family owns property adjacent to the Wilcox Oil Co. site. Kelly resigned his Superfund post in May amid scrutiny of his banking career.
Bristow is home to about 4,200 people and four contaminated sites, remnants of its oil and gas past. Kelly’s grandfather discovered oil on his farm around 1920, allowing him to invest in a bank that would become Spirit Bank, the family business, according to press reports.
After oil was discovered by Kelly’s grandfather nearly a century ago, a well was drilled by a local company in Bristow. That company was Wilcox Oil.
The Wilcox Oil Company Superfund site in Bristow is seen in this undated photo from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s archives.
A U.S. Geological Survey employee scans results from a well at the Wilcox Oil Co. Superfund site in Bristow.
Contamination is seen in a waterway near the Wilcox Oil Co. Superfund site in Bristow in this 1999 photo.