Utica Resource Operating settles federal emissions violations case.
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that Utica Resource Operating LLC (URO) has agreed to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at URO’s oil and gas production well operations in Ohio. The deal brings to light URO’s failure to keep toxic air emissions from permeating its premises and to follow federal and state inspection, record-keeping and reporting requirements.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) originally found problems with uncontrolled VOC emissions from oil and wastewater storage vessels during visits to eleven URO well operations in 2019. These emissions came from “pressurized gasses venting through imperfectly sealed access hatches on top of the storage vessels, pressure relief devices and combustors,” the agency’s reports stated. After learning of other issues, the EPA gave URO a violation notice on August 14, 2020.
As part of the settlement, URO will “complete a $1.5 million suite of injunctive relief at 15 well pad facilities to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act and the facilities’ operating permits; implement mitigation measures at many of the wells owned by URO, and pay a penalty of $1 million,” court records show. The company will complete a multi-step review of the current design of each storage unit and make necessary changes and improvements as needed.
“This settlement not only requires URO to pay a significant civil penalty, it also requires pollution reductions to offset the effects of the company’s past violations,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “These mitigation measures will reduce the emission of harmful volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gasses into the environment.”
People exposed to toxic air pollutants have an increased chance of getting cancer or experiencing other serious health issues, including damage to the immune system, as well as neurological, reproductive respiratory and other, sometimes life-threatening, issues. Not only is there the issue of breathing in the toxins, but the emissions leach into the soil and into water, contaminating both. URO’s operations had the potential to not only impact its employees but anyone within the vicinity of its facilities.
“Utica Resource Operating’s failure to control emissions from its facilities in Guernsey, Morgan and Washington Counties placed our fellow citizens in harm’s way,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker for the Southern District of Ohio. “Today’s settlement, which includes a significant fine, will require URO to comply with the Clean Air Act, and further reinforce the Department of Justice’s commitment to take aggressive action to protect the citizens of this country. We will continue to hold entities who violate the nation’s environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act, accountable for their actions. My office is committed to keeping our citizens safe.”
“The uncontrolled air emissions from these well facilities were creating poor air quality for residents of Ohio,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s agreement not only requires the company to resolve their outstanding pollution violations, but also take measures to control their methane and carbon dioxide emissions, which are significant contributors to climate change.”
URO will be required to make close to $1.5 million in equipment upgrades designed to further reduce pollution. The improvements will result in estimated annual reductions of “307 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOC), 940 tons of methane and 4,429 tons of carbon dioxide,” according to the settlement.