Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has agreed to pay $5.15 billion to clean up radioactive uranium, thorium, and other hazardous waste that was dumped throughout the United States, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday. The settlement is the largest recovery for environmental contamination in the nation’s history.
Anadarko is the parent company of energy company Kerr-McGee Corp., which it acquired in 2006. According to the Justice Department, Kerr-McGee has an 85-year history of polluting U.S. communities and resources with toxic waste.
Kerr-McGee’s perchlorate business contaminated Lake Mead, which flows into the Colorado River and provides drinking water to much of the Southwest United States. Its mining operations left radioactive uranium piled and scattered across the Navajo Nation. The company’s wood-treating facilities left carcinogenic creosote contamination throughout the East, Midwest and South, and its thorium facilities left radioactive soil in the City of Chicago.
These are just a few of the dozens of environmental contamination cases that the government knows about. Over time, Kerr-McGee was found liable for the costs involved in cleaning up the contaminated sites and compensating those harmed by the hazardous waste. The company sought to shed these liabilities through a complicated, multi-step corporate reorganization that involved creating a scapegoat company called Tronox.
Between 2002 and 2006, Kerr-McGee fraudulently isolated billions of dollars of environmental liabilities by spinning them off into Tronox, while Kerr-McGee kept hold of its lucrative oil and gas industries. Anadarko purchased Kerr-McGee’s oil and gas exploration business for $18 billion four months after the creation of Tronox, which, burdened with liabilities, subsequently filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
“Had Kerr-McGee gotten away with its scheme, it would have skirted its responsibility for cleaning up contaminated sites around the country,” the Justice Department said.
“Kerr-McGee’s businesses all over this country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake,” the Justice Department said in its announcement Thursday. “It tried to shed its responsibility for this environmental damage and stick the United States taxpayers with the huge cleanup bill.”
Justice Department officials said $1.1 billion of the total recovery would go to a trust charged with cleaning up two dozen sites. Another $1.1 billion will be deposited into 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, New Mexico.
Approximately $224 million will cover thorium contamination in New Jersey, and about $217 million will go to the federal Superfund in repayment of costs previously incurred by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to cleanup sites contaminated by Kerr-McGee.
Anadarko had a 25-percent partnership in BP’s Deepwater Horizon venture, which ended on April 10, 2010 when the rig exploded, killing 11 workers and setting off the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. After a protracted dispute with BP over liability for the spill, Anadarko agreed to pay its former partner $4 billion to resolve its liability.