WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the state of Colorado today announced a settlement with Denver-based HighPoint Operating Corporation resolving alleged Clean Air Act violations.
The settlement resolves alleged claims that HighPoint violated requirements to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions from its oil and natural gas production operations in the Denver-Julesburg Basin. VOCs are a key component in the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
“As part of the Department’s continued effort to safeguard and improve air quality, we remain committed to reducing the emissions of volatile organic compounds that contribute to high levels of ground-level ozone and so endanger the public health,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark. “This settlement reflects the progress that can be made when the federal government engages in cooperative endeavors with its state partners.”
“This settlement reflects EPA’s continued efforts with the Department of Justice, the State of Colorado and oil and gas producers to secure Clean Air Act compliance and reduce emissions that are contributing to high levels of ground-level ozone in communities across Colorado’s Front Range,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Deb Thomas.
“This represents another step in Colorado’s ongoing efforts to protect public health and the environment by minimizing harmful emissions from the oil and gas industry,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
As part of the settlement, HighPoint will spend an estimated $3 million to implement measures that will ensure the vapor control systems on its condensate storage tanks are adequately designed and sized and will improve its operation and maintenance practices, monitoring, and inspections. These improvements, including monthly inspections using infrared cameras to better detect and respond in real time to emissions, will significantly reduce VOC emissions. EPA and the state of Colorado estimate that HighPoint’s modifications of vapor control system design, improvements to operations and maintenance practices, and increased monitoring will reduce VOC emissions from HighPoint’s operations by approximately 350 tons per year.
HighPoint will also implement an environmental mitigation project to reduce VOC emissions in the Denver area. HighPoint will install and operate vapor balancing controls to minimize emissions associated with loading of condensate into tank trucks at ten HighPoint well pads. This project will reduce HighPoint’s VOC emissions from tank truck load-out by an estimated 50 tons per year.
HighPoint will pay the United States a $275,000 civil penalty, and will pay a civil penalty to Colorado and perform a State supplemental environmental project, with a combined value of $275,000. HighPoint will apply $220,000 of the State’s portion of the penalty to a supplemental environmental project.
This action arose when inspections of HighPoint operations conducted from 2014 to 2017 by EPA and Colorado found VOC emissions from HighPoint’s condensate storage tanks. Through these inspections and information requests, EPA and the State of Colorado identified alleged violations of the Colorado State Implementation Plan, Regulation Number 7, due to undersized vapor control systems and inadequate operations and maintenance practices.
This settlement covers 50 HighPoint tank systems in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin. The tank systems covered by the settlement are located in an ozone nonattainment area, which means the area does not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standard set for ozone. By reducing the emissions of VOCs that lead to the formation of ground-level ozone, this settlement will contribute to the improvement of air quality in the Front Range.
The consent decree, lodged in the District Court of Colorado, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The consent decree will be available for viewing at https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
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Author: April 19, 2019