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A building and stacks in a remote area.
The Pawnee National Grassland in Weld County has for years been the site of energy development, ranging from oil and gas extraction to wind power. (Doug Conarroe, The Colorado Sun)

The Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators Thursday announced $9.25 million in fines for ozone-causing leaks by natural gas companies in Colorado and other Western states, while also demanding new equipment and repairs to stop the emissions. 

The fines and repairs will reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and leaks of volatile organic compounds and other ozone-causing chemicals in the nine-county northern Front Range nonattainment area, officials said, where the EPA has declared Colorado’s Front Range in “severe” violation of federal ozone limits. 

“EPA will continue to hold companies accountable as we deliver cleaner air for communities across the region,” EPA Region 8 Administrator KC Becker said in announcing the settlements. 

The fines for natural gas leaks come as clean air advocates argue at the Colorado legislature for more rigorous air pollution permitting standards at state agencies, and push the Air Quality Control Commission to pass new rules putting more clean electric heavy trucks on Colorado roads. Environmental groups have also been winning a series of court judgments against Colorado regulators for missing legal deadlines for deciding on permits to oil and gas companies. 

As part of the settlements, WES DJ Gathering LLC, formerly Kerr-McGee Gathering, will pay a combined $3.5 million to the U.S. and to Colorado over alleged Clean Air Act violations at three gas processing plants called the Fort Lupton Complex, 35 miles north of Denver. The spot is inside the severe nonattainment area for ozone, the EPA noted. The company will replace older valves and other equipment and use optical leak detection technology to prevent leaks, according to the settlement with the EPA and the Department of Justice. 

That settlement alone will reduce ozone-causing pollutants by 162 tons a year, and reduce carbon emissions that lead to global warming by more than 17,000 tons a year. 

A second settlement fines The Williams Companies $3.75 million for leaks of volatile organic compounds at natural gas processing facilities near Parachute, Rifle and Ignacio in Colorado; and processing and compressor stations across Wyoming. The company will also have to monitor and potentially overhaul its flaring systems at the Ignacio Gas Plant on the Southern Ute Reservation. 

That fine will be split among federal, state and tribal authorities. 

A third settlement issues $2 million in fines and $4.5 million in total relief for alleged violations by MPLX LP at gas plants in North Dakota, Wyoming and on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah. 

The EPA has previously added Utah to the states violating so-called “good neighbor” laws by contributing oil and gas and utility plant pollution that drifts into Colorado, among other states, and adds to ozone pollution on the Front Range. 


That portion of the settlement will reduce ozone-causing pollutants by 95 tons a year, and greenhouse gases by 3,850 tons a year, the EPA said. 

“I think this is an important agreement EPA was able to reach — Colorado essentially went along for the ride — but we really need Colorado to step up and address the day-to-day noncompliance issues with both big and small companies,” said Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians, whose organization has helped lead many of the legal efforts against Colorado agencies. “To me, this just underscores the fact that industry violations remain persistent and require a more aggressive response from enforcers.”

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Michael Booth

Michael Booth is a Colorado Sun reporter covering health, health policy and the environment. Email: Twitter: @MBoothDenver