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Anadarko trial spotlights Oklahoma City oil dynasty

Kerr-McGee's Gunnison spar truss oil facillity in the Gulf of Mexico. Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of the giant oil and gas company Anadarko, is being sued for $25 billion in New York City. The company's long history and pedigree resemble a script from the old and recently resurrected TV series "Dallas."

Jeremy Hobson: Well in a New York courtroom today, a famous Oklahoma City company called Kerr-McGee is being sued for $25 billion over environmental pollution.

Marketplace's Scott Tong reports.


Scott Tong: Kerr-McGee’s founder, Robert Kerr, started a company that in its heyday sold everything from oil and gas, to uranium and chemicals. He later became governor, senator, philanthropist. His great-nephew is Aubrey McClendon -- the controversial founder of Chesapeake Energy, and part-owner of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

At issue in court is Kerr-McGee’s old railroad tie sites. They took wood planks and soaked them in a chemical sludge called creosote.

Janet Russo: I have stage 4, metastatic renal cell carcinoma.

Janet Russo grew up next to a chemical site in Pennsylvania. Middle-age women like her hardly ever get this cancer.

Russo: It’s basically, they said, environmentally caused. I’m convinced it’s because of the creosote. Only because I can’t think of anything else that it would be.

Russo and 8,000 others are suing Kerr-McGee. But a few years back, it spun off a new firm, responsible for pollution payouts. It went bankrupt.

Intentional fraud? That’s the question. Jay Westbrook teaches law at the University of Texas.

Jay Westbrook: The classic instance would be, the guy who’s being sued by everybody for one thing or another, and gives all of his assets to his mother. And then says ‘OK creditors, I’ve got nothing left. What do you want to do about that?’

Kerr-McGee denies wrongdoing. It’s now part of another oil giant: Anadarko.

I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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