The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday announced that Anadarko Petroleum Corp. had agreed to pay $5.15 billion to clean up hazardous substances dumped nationwide — including radioactive uranium waste across the Navajo Nation — in the largest settlement ever for environmental contamination.
The operations of Kerr-McGee Corp. — which was acquired by Anadarko in 2006 — also left behind radioactive thorium in Chicago and West Chicago, Ill.; creosote waste in the Northeast, the Midwest and the South; and perchlorate waste in Nevada, according to U.S. Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole.
"Kerr-McGee's businesses all over this country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake," Cole said. "It tried to shed its responsibility for this environmental damage and stick the United States taxpayers with the huge cleanup bill."
Last year, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Allan L. Gropper found that before the acquisition, Kerr-McGee had fraudulently conveyed its liability for cleanup at contaminated sites to Tronox Inc., a spinoff entity, while retaining its valuable oil and gas exploration assets.
As a result, Tronox was declared insolvent in 2009 and left unable to address environmental liabilities.
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, described Kerr-McGee's efforts to "keep its rewards and shed its responsibilities" as a "corporate shell game."
In a statement, Anadarko Chief Executive Al Walker said the settlement "eliminates the uncertainty this dispute has created, and the proceeds will fund the remediation and cleanup of the legacy environmental liabilities and tort claims."
Justice Department officials said $1.1 billion of the total would go to a trust charged with cleaning up two dozen sites, including the Kerr-McGee Superfund site in Columbus, Miss.
Another $1.1 billion will be paid to a trust responsible for cleaning up a former chemical manufacturing site that polluted Nevada's Lake Mead with rocket fuel. Lake Mead feeds into the Colorado River, a major source of drinking water in the Southwest.
About $985 million will go toward the cleanup of roughly 50 abandoned uranium mines in and around the Navajo Nation. In addition, the Navajo Nation will receive more than $43 million to address radioactive waste left at a former uranium mill in Shiprock, N.M.
About $224 million will cover thorium contamination at the Welsbach Superfund site in Gloucester, N.J., and about $217 million will go to the federal Superfund in repayment of costs previously incurred by the Environmental Protection Agency's cleanup of the Federal Creosote Superfund site in Manville, N.J.
After a public comment period, the agreement announced Thursday must be approved by Gropper and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, hailed the settlement as a "huge win for public health and the environment."