The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Justice (DOJ) and the State of Colorado recently announced a settlement with Houston-based Noble Energy, Inc., resolving alleged Clean Air Act violations.
Noble Energy, one of the top two drillers in Weld County, was investigated in 2013, after a 2012 inquiry in which thermal cameras were used to examine Noble's petroleum tanks. While nothing appeared out of place, the special cameras found that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were being released from the tanks. VOCs are a key component in the formation of ozone which irritates the lungs and exacerbates respiratory diseases.
The EPA claimed that Noble had failed to adequately design, size, operate and maintain vapor control systems on its controlled condensate storage tanks. Under the settlement Noble has agreed to evaluate its vapor control systems, reduce VOC emissions and report regularly to the public. Noble will also spend $60 million on system upgrades, $4.5 million to fund environmental mitigation projects, $4 million on supplemental environmental projects and a $4.95 million civil penalty.
"Today's settlement shows what can happen when federal and state governments work together to find innovative solutions to today's complex pollution challenges," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA. "This agreement highlights how air pollution can be addressed from a significant sector in a commonsense way, and helps spur development of advanced pollution control technologies that will be available to the entire industry. As domestic energy development grows, we all have a stake in making sure it's done responsibly."
The EPA estimates that Noble's upgrades will reduce VOC emissions by at least 2,400 tons per year, with other reductions achieved through operational improvements. Energy companies like Noble can work with environmental consultants to evaluate and reduce their air emissions.