$4 Million Fine Levied for Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Wells

February 19, 2024
Apache Corporation (Apache) has agreed to pay $4 million in civil penalties and undertake projects expected to cost at least $5.5 million to ensure 422 of its oil and gas well pads in New Mexico and Texas comply with federal and state clean air regulations and offset past illegal emissions.
Apache’s agreement settles a civil suit, filed jointly by the United States, on behalf of the EPA and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), alleging that Apache failed to comply with federal and state requirements to capture and control air emissions from 23 of its oil and gas production operations in New Mexico and Texas. EPA and NMED identified the alleged violations through field investigations and repeated flyover surveillance conducted in 2019, 2020 and 2022.
Compliance with this robust settlement will result in annual reductions of more than 9,650 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and 900 tons of methane, which equates to more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). VOCs are a key component in the formation of ground-level ozone or smog, which irritates lungs, exacerbates diseases including asthma and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
“Robust enforcement of Clean Air Act violations at oil and gas facilities protects communities from harmful smog and reduces methane emissions that are major contributors to global climate change,” said David M. Uhlmann, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s agreement demonstrates EPA’s commitment to working with our state partners to tackle climate change and improve air quality for everyone living in the United States.”
“Today’s settlement will ensure compliance at hundreds of oil and gas facilities across New Mexico and Texas,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Under the settlement, over 400 Apache facilities will be required to take extensive steps to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds – which contribute to smog – as well as methane gas, which is a significant contributor to climate change.”
“Noxious pollutants directly threaten the health of neighboring communities while propelling our world toward climate disaster,” said U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez for the District of New Mexico. “I applaud the tireless efforts of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, the U.S. EPA and the NMED to protect our lungs and our earth. Environmental justice is a top priority for the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico.”
“This settlement shows that oil and gas operators deserve greater scrutiny because too many are failing to comply with federal and state rules,” said New Mexico Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney. “As a result, bad actors will cause greater federal and state regulation of the entire oil and gas industry as ozone levels rise and public health suffers.”
The $4 million fine outlined in the settlement will be shared equally by the United States and the State of New Mexico, with New Mexico’s portion going to the state’s general fund. The settlement document (consent decree) was filed together with the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico and requires the company to take numerous steps to ensure that 422 well pads covered by the consent decree and located in New Mexico and Texas are operated lawfully.
In addition to the $4 million fine, Apache will also spend at least $4.5 million to implement extensive design, operation, maintenance and monitoring improvements, including installing new tank pressure monitoring systems that will provide advance notification of potential emissions and allow for immediate response action by the company. Apache will also spend over $1 million to offset the harm caused by the alleged violations by replacing, on an accelerated schedule, more than 400 pollutant-emitting pneumatic devices with non-emitting devices.
Pound for pound, methane is approximately 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of its impact on global warming. Accordingly, a reduction of 900 tons of annual methane reductions equates to more than 25,000 tons of CO2, akin to eliminating the use of more than 2.5 million gallons of gasoline annually. Greenhouse gases from human activities are a primary cause of climate change and global warming. This enforcement settlement furthers EPA’s commitment to deliver public health protections against climate-impacting pollution and other pollutants for communities across America and helps deliver on EPA’s top commitment in its strategic plan, which is to tackle the climate crisis.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for criteria pollutants that are considered harmful to public health and the environment. Ozone is a criteria pollutant that is created when oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and VOCs react in the atmosphere. VOCs and NOx are emitted by oil and gas production facilities, such as those operated by Apache. During the timeframes of Apache’s alleged violations, air quality monitors in the relevant counties in New Mexico registered rising ozone concentrations exceeding 95% of the NAAQS for ozone. In counties where ozone levels reach 95% of the NAAQS, NMED is required by New Mexico state statute to take action to reduce ozone pollution.
New Jersey Contractor’s Ongoing Disregard for Safety Laws Leads to $1M Penalty
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited a New Jersey contractor for again exposing workers to fall hazards, this time while working at a construction site in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.
OSHA initiated an inspection of Adrian Construction Group LLC in July 2023 under a local emphasis program for falls in construction. The agency issued six willful violations for lack of fall protection and failure to ensure the use of eye protection and four serious violations for unsafe scaffolds and failure to provide hard hats for overhead hazards. The company faces a proposed penalty of $1,017,248 for these violations.
OSHA has inspected Adrian Construction five times since 2016, and in each instance the agency cited the company for failure to provide workers with fall protection. The company has been added to the Severe Violators Enforcement Program due to the egregious nature of the fall violations.
"Adrian Construction, under the ownership of Adrian Perea, continues to show a blatant disregard for the safety of their employees," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. "Placing them on the list of severe violators will intensify our scrutiny of their operations."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 1,069 construction workers died on the job in 2022, with 395 of those fatalities related to falls from elevations. Exposure to fall hazards makes residential framing and roofing work among the deadliest jobs in construction.
US Labor Department Cites 2 Employers After Worker Suffers Fatal Injuries
A federal investigation into the death of a 39-year-old maintenance employee found that the two contractors responsible for the job site could have prevented the incident by communicating and following safety rules designed to prevent the unexpected startup of machinery.
Investigators with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that on Aug. 4, 2023, a worker employed by G & R Mineral Services Inc. – a Birmingham, Alabama-based maintenance and repair contractor who was hired by HM Southeast Cement LLC – was performing repairs on a screw conveyor system mounted on top of a cement silo. Despite the equipment being locked out and de-energized, the employer made the decision to remove the locks temporarily and energize the equipment to rotate the screw conveyor shaft to align the equipment for repair. As a result, the worker was caught in the conveyor and suffered fatal wounds.
OSHA cited G & R Mineral for three serious violations for failing to remove employees from areas surrounding unguarded screw conveyors, failing to establish specific procedures for controlling hazardous energy and failing to inform the host employer of their lockout/tagout procedures. The agency proposed $38,715 in penalties for G & R Mineral.
The agency also cited HM Southeast Cement for three serious violations and proposed $43,554 in penalties to the employer. OSHA found the employer failed to establish specific procedures for controlling hazardous energy, perform periodic inspections of the energy control procedures to prevent accidental contact with ingoing nip points and rotating parts, and review and coordinate lockout-tagout procedures with its contractor.
"This tragedy is a reminder of the importance of properly developed and implemented lockout/tagout procedures," said OSHA Area Office Director Condell Eastmond in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Employers and contractors must assess the hazards before anyone touches the machinery and must use lockout/tagout procedures to prevent serious injuries or death."
Based in Birmingham, G & R Mineral Services Inc. is a maintenance and repair contractor for plant equipment and employs nearly 100 workers.
HM Southeast Cement is a distributor of bulk cement and operates cement silos located at Port Everglades. The company employs nearly 175 workers.
Hazardous Waste Violations Lead to Hefty Fines
Owens Corning Insulating Systems LLC will pay $115,302 in civil penalties to resolve alleged violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Kansas hazardous waste management regulations.
According to the EPA, the company generates hazardous wastes at its fiberglass insulation facility in Kansas City, Kansas. During an EPA inspection in October 2022, the Agency determined that the company failed to comply with regulations intended to prevent releases of hazardous waste, including:
  • Failure to conduct and document determinations of hazardous waste at the facility.
  • Failure to notify the state when it generates new hazardous wastes.
  • Operating as a hazardous waste treatment, storage, and/or disposal facility without obtaining a required permit.
  • Failure to properly manage certain wastes at the facility.
“This settlement demonstrates EPA’s commitment to protect communities from releases of hazardous waste, especially those already burdened by historical pollution,” said David Cozad, director of EPA Region 7’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “The Agency is also committed to leveling the playing field for companies that comply with federal law.”
EPA says that Owens Corning was previously fined by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in 2017 for the same or similar violations. The Agency also reports that since the 2022 inspection, Owens Corning has taken the necessary steps to correct the violations and return to compliance.
EPA identified the community surrounding the Owens Corning facility as a potentially sensitive area because of exposures to diesel particulate matter, air toxics cancer risk, and hazardous waste proximity. EPA is strengthening enforcement in overburdened communities to address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of industrial operations on vulnerable populations.
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