Noble Energy settles air pollution charges from D-J basin operations

Noble Energy Inc. agreed to settle federal and state air pollution charges stemming from its Denver-Julesburg basin oil and gas exploration and production activities, the US Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, and State of Colorado jointly said.

They said the proposed settlement resolves claims that the Houston independent producer failed to adequately design, size, operate, and maintain vapor control systems on its controlled condensate storage tanks, resulting in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Noble agreed to spend $60 million on system upgrades, monitoring, and inspections to reduce emissions, in addition to $4.5 million to fund environmental mitigation projects and $4 million on supplemental environmental projects. It also will pay a $4.95 million fine, $1.475 million of which will go to Colorado.

Based on EPA and Colorado's initial review of a relatively small number of older tank batteries, Noble elected to expand the consent decree to identify additional opportunities to reduce emissions within the DJ basin, the company said.

“We’re implementing a serious action plan through which we will evaluate tank batteries throughout our D-J basin operations, remove the tank batteries that should be removed, improve others and implement enhanced environmental strategies,” said Gary Willingham, Noble executive vice-president of operations.

Under the proposed settlement filed on Apr. 22 in US District Court for Colorado, Noble will perform engineering evaluations and make modifications to ensure that its vapor control systems are properly designed and sized to capture and control VOCs.

It agreed to use an infrared camera to inspect these systems, both initially to confirm capture and control of VOCs, and periodically to verify proper upkeep and operation. A third party will audit these activities, and Noble will develop and post reports summarizing its engineering evaluations and modifications online.

The company also will install monitors at certain storage tanks to detect pressure increases which may indicate possible emissions releases. Noble also agreed to evaluate the condition of pressure relief valves, thief hatches, and mountings and gaskets on each storage tank, and address any evidence of VOC emissions from those devices.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court review and approval, DOJ and EPA said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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