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Lawsuit Filed to Defend Public Health From Illegal Oil and Gas Industry Air Pollution
“The oil and gas industry is willfully violating our clean air laws at a massive scale along Colorado’s Front Range,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “With our health at risk, we can’t afford to frack away our clean air.”
Today’s suit, filed in federal court in Denver, targets Extraction Oil and Gas, Noble Energy, Crestone Resources, Great Western Operating, Mallard Exploration, PDC Energy, and Bonanza Creek Energy, all major producers along Colorado’s Front Range.
The lawsuit calls for a halt to the illegal air pollution while the companies obtain legally required permits and for the companies to pay fines over their violations.
The suit comes as Colorado’s Front Range, including the Denver Metro area and North Front Range region, has been struggling with ground-level ozone pollution, the key ingredient of smog. The region has been declared an “ozone nonattainment area” due to violations of federal smog limits.
The facilities involved all have the potential to release hundreds, if not thousands, of tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds, also known as “VOCs.”
“By developing wells and putting them into production prior to obtaining permits, these companies have avoided compliance with stringent limits on smog-forming pollution and other toxic substances,” said Randall Weiner, an environmental attorney representing WildEarth Guardians. “We will use these seven fracking companies’ own documents to prove their violations of the Clean Air Act’s permitting requirements.”
The region’s oil and gas industry is one of the largest sources of smog-forming pollution. After decades of improved air quality along the Front Range, ramped up fracking in the last year has pushed ozone levels to unhealthy highs.
As development has boomed and encroached into communities, massive oil and gas facilities have also put neighboring homes, farms, schools, and businesses at risk.
At issue is that companies are abusing a loophole that allows small sources of air pollution to submit clean air permit applications within 90 days after their oil and gas wells start producing.
The loophole doesn’t apply to large sources of air pollution, called “major sources” under the Clean Air Act. A major source is a source that has the potential to emit more than 100 tons per year of ozone forming compounds. In spite of this, industry has expanded the loophole, claiming it allows major sources to be built and put into operation before obtaining permits.
The practice has drawn criticism from Colorado U.S. Representative Diana DeGette.
The companies in this case drilled and fracked several new oil and gas facilities in 2018. In total, 15 facilities, all located in Weld County, are involved. Click here to see a map of the offending facilities.
Although last February, WildEarth Guardians notified the companies of their violations, they are still operating without legally required permits.
“We have estimated that the companies have enjoyed more than $440 million in economic benefits by avoiding the permitting process for their facilities,” said Nichols. “This situation just highlights the need for aggressive enforcement to deter future violations and set the record straight that our health, safety, and environment come before oil and gas industry profits.”
Under the Clean Air Act, violators face penalties of up to $99,681 per violation per day. It’s estimated the companies could collectively be liable for more than $1.3 billion in penalties.
It is hoped that today’s lawsuit can put an end to industry’s practice of constructing major sources of air pollution without obtaining legally required permits in the Denver Metro-North Front Range ozone nonattainment area.
Dozens of oil and gas well facilities are currently operating without legally required permits in the Denver Metro-North Front Range ozone nonattainment area. In a review of Colorado Air Pollution Control Division records, WildEarth Guardians has identified 50 such facilities, although there are many more in the region.
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