Historic Kansas oil town hopes for cleanup

NEODESHA, Kan. —The first commercial oil well west of the Mississippi River was drilled here 116 years ago.

Today there's a sea of toxic oil under this town of 2,800 people in southeastern Kansas from a refinery built on the edge of town in 1897 and closed in 1970 without a cleanup. From time to time the oil has gurgled to the surface, sometimes by a church, sometimes on the softball field.

After decades of battling the sludge and years of attempting to sue BP, residents have some hopeful news. In a surprise turnabout last month, a judge ruled that BP was liable for damages and a jury now must decide if BP should pay what the city wants — a half-billion dollars.

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