Oil Companies Fight Against Underground Tanks

Oil Companies Fight Against Underground Tanks

Special Master Recommends Injunction Against Underground Storage Ordinance-Companies Lose Suits in the State Courts

A RECOMMENDATION in a Federal suit that will be of interest to fire chiefs throughout the country and especially to those who have oil works or storage yards within their jurisdiction, has just been made by a special master appointed by a Federal justice. The case in question is the city of Maysville, Ky., against the Standard Oil Company of Indiana, and the master who made the recommendation. which suggested an injunction against an ordinance by the city of Maysville, was Charles B. Smith, of Topeka, Kan., appointed by Judge John C. Pollock. The ordinance against which this recommendation was made provided that all tanks containing oil. gasoline and kerosene above a normal size and all tanks containing distillate and crude oil above 500 gallons should be buried in the ground at least five feet.

Measure Backed by League of Municipalities

The. Marysville ordinance had the backing of the Kansas League of Municipalities and the legal talent of the league was lent to the city in upholding the measure, assistance being given the city authorities by Harry Colmery. of the firm of Dean & Colmery, one of the attorneys for the league. When it was found that the companies involved had no intention of obeying the law, their representatives were placed under arrest by the city authorities.

Case First Tried in State Courts

The case was first tried in the state courts of Kentucky. ‘The first attempt to restrain the city authorities took the form of an injunction suit brought by T. F. Carver, of Topeka, attorney for the Cities Service Company. This case was lost and the attorney for the company then appealed to the state supreme court. Here he again met with defeat. Another suit of a similar nature, brought by the Derby Oil Company, is still pending.

Other Companies Try the Federal Courts

The Standard Oil Company of Indiana and the Sinclair Oil Company, on the other hand, adopted different tactics. These consisted of bringing suit in the Federal court of the district. Earle W. Evans, of Wichita and T. F. Doran, of Topeka represented the two companies, respectively.

A restraining order was prayed for by the oil companies on the grounds that the ordinance was unreasonable and arbitrary in requiring them to do something which it was alleged would increase rather than decrease the fire hazard.

The suit came to trial in the Federal courts at Kansas City, Kan., last fall and consumed three weeks. The lawyers on both sides called an imposing array of expert witnesses, including some men of national prominence in the fire protection field, and embracing some of the best known chemists and scientists of the country. The testimony of the plaintiffs’ witnesses was intended to show that a leak in a tank above ground could be easily detected and stopped while that underground was hard to locate and the oil seeping into the ground it was asserted formed a potential cause of fires and explosions. It was claimed that the Standard of Indiana alone had 1,000 large tanks in Kansas. The cost of burying them was estimated bv its engineers at $4.1XX) each, or a total cost of $4,000,000.

Less Danger from Exposure When Underground

On the other hand the defendant witnesses called attention to the lessening of the risk from exposure fires when the tanks were beneath the surface, and showed that the great majority of the great losses by oil tank fires arose from the spreading of the blaze from the original tank on fire to others in the field either through the radiation of heat or the scattering of incandescent oil through explosion or boiling over of the burning liquid. These hazards were overcome to a very large extent when the tanks were placed under ground.

‘The report of the special master, just passed up to the judge, recommends the granting of the injunction against the Marysville ordinance, lie upholds the theory of the oil companies, in that he expresses the belief that it is more dangerous to store gasoline and kerosene in large quantities under ground than above ground.

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