The federal government and the State of Colorado launched a legal action against Kerr-McGee Gathering LLC, a natural gas company with three locations in the state, based on alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The plaintiffs asserted that Kerr-McGee released unlawful air emissions from all three plants resulting in the increase of risk of respiratory issues among nearby residents, particularly the elderly and children. The governments sought an injunction to enjoin future violations of the CWA and civil penalties.
The Environmental Protection Agency developed regulations under the Clean Water Act known as “Standards of Performance for Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production, Transmission and Distribution.” These rules prohibit the release of more than 10 tons per year of chemical compounds that “may present a threat of adverse human health effects or adverse environmental effects.” The regulations attempt to help any natural gas site from violating the chemical compound emission restrictions by mandating certain equipment standards, namely that all leaks be repaired upon the point that required measuring devices report chemical compounds being released by the leak at a rate of 500 (or more) parts per million.
Once the required detection instrument reports the leak, repairs must commence to fix the leak within “five days after each leak is detected…but not later than 15 days after detection.” The plaintiffs asserted that the defendant failed to make repairs on as many as 250 known leaks among its three natural gas sites. The complaint further stated that this failure to repair continued for as long as three years. Additionally, the plaintiffs proffered, not only were certain leaks not repaired by the defendant, detection devices associated with over 3500 release valves were not checked for any potential leaks within a single year.
The plaintiff’s injunctive relief request sought to inhibit the defendant from engaging in future violations of the CWA and mandate any actions necessary to mitigate and repair harms to public health that occurred as a result of the illegal leaks. Additionally, the parties requested civil penalties of $37,500 per day for violations between 2009 and 2015, and $97,229 per day for violations each day thereafter.