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Friday, April 22, 2016

Louisiana Company to Pay Over $700,000 in Penalties and Costs to Settle U.S. and Louisiana Claims for Atchafalaya River Basin Oil Spills and Violations of Spill Prevention Rules

ORB Exploration LLC Will Pay Civil Penalties, State Response Costs and Take Corrective Measures to Resolve Clean Water Act and State Law Violations at Louisiana Facilities in Iberville and St. Martin Parishes

In the most recent federal-state coordinated enforcement efforts against oil spills in and around the Gulf of Mexico, ORB Exploration LLC (ORB) has agreed to pay civil penalties and state response costs and to implement corrective measures to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and state environmental laws stemming from three crude oil spills that occurred in 2013 and 2015 from two of ORB’s Louisiana facilities at Frog Lake and Crocodile Bayou – both located in the Atchafalaya River Basin – as well as violations of Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations at ORB’s Frog Lake oil storage barge, announced the Department of Justice, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Under a consent decree lodged today in federal court, ORB will pay $615,000 in federal civil penalties for the spills and other Clean Water Act violations, pay the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) $100,000 for civil penalties and response costs and carry out injunctive relief measures to improve spill response preparedness and prevent future oil spills.

“This settlement holds ORB accountable for the harms to the environment caused by its oil spills into threatened, sensitive natural areas and requires the company to take important corrective measures including improving its environmental compliance and preventing future spills from its oil production facilities,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “I am grateful for the close relationship with our federal and state partners that brought such a successful resolution to this case” 

“Discharges of oil into the navigable waters of the United States are an ongoing concern as they pose an obvious and serious risk to the marine environment,” said Rear Admiral Dave Callahan, Eighth Coast Guard District Commander.  “This enforcement action emphasizes our dedication to protecting our natural resources and preventing future pollution from these facilities.”           

“Louisiana’s wetlands are vital to the state’s economy, communities and ecology, providing protection from storm surges and habitat for wildlife,” said Regional Administrator Ron Curry for EPA.  “Companies must be held accountable when their actions threaten these important natural resources.”

“This joint action shows that LDEQ is committed to pursuing anyone who does something to harm our state’s environment,” said Dr. Chuck Carr Brown, LDEQ Secretary.  “Our mission is to protect human health and the environment and those two things are too precious to risk by allowing unscrupulous operators to flout environmental laws in the name of profit.”

As part of a joint action filed with LDEQ, the complaint alleges that ORB spilled over 1,000 barrels of Louisiana crude oil into the Atchafalaya River Basin during the three spills.  The largest occurred at Frog Lake in 2013, after a corroded oil transfer pipeline ruptured in a flooded wetland area.  The cleanup took over a year and a half and required significant state-federal cooperation.  The other two releases occurred in September and October of 2015, from ORB’s Frog Lake and Crocodile Bayou oil production facilities into bayou waters surrounding the facilities. 

In the complaint, the United States asserts penalty and injunctive relief claims for the spills.  It also alleges Clean Water Act violations for ORB’s failure to comply with a USCG order addressing the 2013 cleanup.  The SPCC violations were discovered during a 2015 EPA inspection of ORB’s Frog Lake oil production barge.  For its part, LDEQ asserts state-law claims for civil penalties for the discharges, failure to file a timely report and failure to provide updated notice to the state hotline and for reimbursement of LDEQ’s response costs.

The corrective measures ORB is required to take include improving secondary containment capability at the Frog Lake facility, increasing the frequency of facility inspections and monitoring for oil spills, providing additional advance notice to the USCG before any future oil transfer operation and installation of accurate gauges on production and transfer equipment to allow for and improve accountability and spill detection capabilities.

The Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge oil or hazardous substances into or upon the navigable waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to the environment or public health.  EPA’s SPCC regulations establish procedures, methods and equipment requirements and also require facilities to develop and implement SPCC Plans toward the goal of preventing oil from reaching navigable waters and adjoining shorelines.  The penalty paid to the United States will be deposited in the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund managed by the National Pollution Funds Center.  Those funds will be available to pay for federal response activities and to compensate for damages when there is a discharge or substantial threat of discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines.

The proposed consent decree, lodged in the Middle District of Louisiana, is subject to a public comment requirements and court review and approval.  A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.

Press Release Number: 
Updated April 22, 2016