WASHINGTON – The United States today announced that Utica Resource Operating LLC (URO) has agreed to a settlement resolving alleged Clean Air Act violations at URO’s oil and gas production well facilities in Ohio. The settlement addresses URO’s failure to capture and control air emissions from storage vessels and to comply with associated inspection, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements.
Under the terms of the settlement, URO will complete a $1.9 million suite of injunctive relief at 15 well pad facilities to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act and the facilities’ operating permits and implement mitigation measures at many of the wells owned by URO and pay a penalty of $1 million. The injunctive relief includes a multi-step compliance program to review the current design of each storage vessel system and then make necessary design improvements to ensure that vapors will not be released to the environment during operations.
“The uncontrolled air emissions from these well facilities were creating poor air quality for residents of Ohio,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for 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.”
“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 gases into the environment.”
“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 settlement requires URO to invest approximately $1.5 million in equipment upgrades and retrofits. These mitigation measures will further reduce pollution at URO well pads to offset past excess emissions from URO’s violations. In total, 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. VOCs include a variety of chemicals that may cause adverse health effects, while methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.
The EPA found widespread problems with uncontrolled VOC emissions from oil and wastewater storage vessels during inspections of 11 URO well facilities in 2019. These emissions came from pressurized gases venting through imperfectly sealed access hatches on top of the storage vessels, pressure relief devices, and combustors. After learning of other violations relating to inspections, recordkeeping and reporting, EPA issued a notice and finding of violation to URO on Aug. 14, 2020.
The settlement terms are included in a proposed consent decree that the Department of Justice filed today with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. It is available on the Justice Department website.