DENVER (CN) — Denver-based natural gas company DCP Midstream agreed Monday to pay a $3.25 million fine to settle thousands of Clean Air Act violations recorded across Colorado's Front Range by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
“Leaks from equipment like valves, pumps, and connectors are a significant source of harmful air pollutants,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, with the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, in a statement. “Enforcement actions like this are critical to improving air quality, particularly in places facing air quality challenges like Weld County.”
DCP operates natural gas processing plants in nine Colorado counties along the Front Range, east of the Rocky Mountains, where air quality has fallen so far below the EPA’s ground-level ozone standards the area has been designated a serious nonattainment zone. The complaint points to DCP’s facilities as one potential contributor to the poor air quality across the Denver nonattainment area, which is home to 3 million people.
“The noncompliance alleged in this complaint spans thousands of failures to monitor and repair leaking equipment at seven natural gas processing plants, six of which are located in a nonattainment area for ozone that covers Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson and Weld counties, and portions of Larimer County,” the 27-page complaint says.
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs react with oxygen molecules and sunlight to create harmful ground-level ozone. This pollutant causes lung distress in children, people with respiratory illnesses or heart conditions, the elderly, outdoor workers and people exercising outside.
Federal law requires operators to attempt to repair oil and gas equipment leaks within five days of detection and to make repairs within 15 days, or in certain circumstances to make repairs during process unit shutdowns.
The complaint filed in the U.S. District of Colorado cited VOC leaks that went unaddressed within required time periods between October 2013 and June 2021. The feds also say that throughout the last decade, DCP failed to keep records of compliance and did not monitor pumps, valves and connectors to detect leaks as required.
In a release, EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker estimated the settlement will reduce 288 tons of VOC and 1,300 tons of methane from the air.
Per the 94-page consent decree, DCP vowed to improve processes for detecting and repairing leaks through better training and equipment, including the adoption of optical gas imaging technology. The company will also invest $1.15 million into installing a dry seal recompression system on two turbines at the Kersey Mewbourne plant in Greeley. This move would reduce VOC emissions by an estimated 26 tons per year alongside a 375-ton reduction in methane emissions.
“We believe that agreeing to institute a comprehensive and enhanced leak detection monitoring and repair program at all of our Colorado gas processing facilities is consistent with our ongoing efforts to reduce emissions within our company footprint and is a positive outcome for all of our stakeholders,” Jeanette Alberg, DCP’s manager of public affairs, said in a statement.
“Implementing this enhanced program will also provide DCP, and federal and state regulators, with more information regarding advanced leak detection and repair techniques and further reduce ozone precursors and other emissions in the northern front range," Alberg added.
The company is working toward a 2030 goal of reducing certain greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and reaching net zero by 2050.
The federal complaint proposed levying fines up to $37,500 for violations of state and federal law prior to November 2015, in addition to fines up to $109,024 per day per violation onward and further penalties for violations that occurred between July 2020 and January 2022.
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