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State sues Shell for $2.4 million over old cleanup costs

The state of New Hampshire is suing Shell Oil Co. over $2.4 million it claims the petroleum behemoth should have paid for cleanup efforts at former Shell-owned gas stations.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday by the attorney general’s office, contends that Shell deliberately failed to disclose it had an insurance policy that would have covered the cost of the contamination cleanups at several sites.

The state is seeking full reimbursement for the payments plus interest.

Robert Friedman, an attorney representing Shell, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Shell owned and operated stations in New Hampshire from the 1930s until 1998, according to the suit. It has since divested ownership of those sites, though some stations have retained the Shell brand.

Over decades, oil from underground storage tanks on at least 14 of those sites has seeped into soil and, sometimes, groundwater, according to the suit. The suit does not specify their locations.

The cleanup projects at issue were financed by a special state fund used to reimburse tank owners when cleanup costs exceed available insurance coverage. The fund, created in 1988, is paid for by a tax on all imported oil.

On its various applications for funding, Shell was asked whether it had a relevant policy to cover the cost of cleanup. According to the lawsuit, it disclosed none.

The lawsuit claims that Shell is also liable for payments involving applicants at former Shell sites.

This could be the first of other suits to come, said Assistant Attorney General Evan Mulholland, who filed the claim. He said the state is in talks with various oil companies about reimbursement for similar omissions.

Mulholland said the state was involved in a similar issue with Exxon about seven years ago, though in that case, he said, Exxon approached the state and offered to reimburse it for the funds directly.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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