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Sac and Fox Nation Receives Partial Payment in Tenneco Water Contamination Settlement

SAC AND FOX NATION RESERVATION, July 2, 1997-A check for $580,000 is now in a Sac and Fox Nation bank account as the former Tenneco Oil Company moves toward finalizing settlement of a water contamination suit.

In a ceremony at the Nation's government headquarters, Acting Principal Chief Merle Boyd and business committee members Charles Spoon and Candace Howard accepted the check from Gregory J. Odegard, vice president for environmental, health, and safety for El Paso Energy Corporation. El Paso Energy acquired the discontinued operations of Tenneco Oil Company as part of its acquisition of Tenneco Energy late last year, and promptly moved to finalize settlement of this long-standing issue and assume Tenneco's obligations under the settlement.

El Paso Energy's initial payment will be followed by two additional payments, the total of which will be $580,000. The payments are being made as part of a settlement that resolves environmental issues related to oil field operations conducted by Tenneco Oil Company on tribal lands from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.

"We welcome this opportunity to work closely with the Sac and Fox Nation in a productive manner," said Odegard. "I'm pleased to report that we are on schedule in our efforts to secure a potable water supply for the Nation. We have drilled three wells and additional wells are planned. El Paso Energy is committed to conducting business in a manner that protects the environment, and in this case, to resolving a historical problem we inherited with the recent acquisition."

El Paso has secured two-and-one-half miles of easement for laying a pipeline to deliver water from these wells to the Reservation. Odegard said El Paso is on schedule on a project to provide irrigation water from the Deep Fork River for agriculture purposes. A delivery system is being designed.

El Paso Energy is also removing a former surface impoundment on tribal lands and replanting the area with native vegetation. The company will plant 250 pecan trees in to reestablish a grove on the reservation.

The U.S. Justice Department filed suit against Tenneco in January 1996, claiming saltwater from Tenneco's discontinued oil operations contaminated the Sac and Fox water supply. The suit identified as the possible cause of the contamination, migration of saltwater injected in a half-century's worth of efforts to produce oil and natural gas from formations beneath the Reservation's surface.

El Paso settled the case immediately after closing its acquisition of Tenneco Energy in December 1996. In addition to the settlement, an El Paso official presented the Sac and Fox Nation a gift of $25,000, to be used to build a swimming pool for Sac and Fox Nation members and visitors to the Reservation.

At the ceremony, Lois Schiffer, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, said that obtaining a permanent, independent water source for the nation was the suit's most important goal. Schiffer said, "This case really is about hope...hope that the tribe will have an adequate supply of safe drinking water, hope for the tribe to have enough potable drinking water to ensure its development needs well into the future, hope for a supply of irrigation water to permit farming on these lands."

Schiffer also believes this experience demonstrates the value of cooperation in resolving environmental issues. She said that Tenneco and El Paso deserve a great deal of credit for working with the government and the Sac and Fox Nation to solve the problem promptly, avoiding expensive litigation.

"I really hope that we can treat this as an example of how all of us - the federal government, the tribe, Tenneco, El Paso, and others -can work together to get a very good result for the tribes of our nation," Schiffer said.

Sac and Fox Acting Principal Chief Merle Boyd thanked a very long list of people who were instrumental in making this compromise happen. He pronounced the Nation pleased with the settlement. "The Sac and Fox Nation has been without clean drinking water for about forty years," Chief Boyd said. "This settlement will enable the Nation to build its economy and allow tribal members to return to the Reservation to build homes.

The Sac and Fox Nation and Justice Department had substantive and substantial assistance from the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Indian Health Service, and Foxhollow consultants of Lone Grove, Oklahoma in preparing the suit and conducting settlement negotiations.

Contacts

Merle Boyd, Acting Principal Chief
Sac and Fox Nation
(918) 968-3526 or


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