Natural Gas Processor Merit Energy Agrees to Comprehensive Program to Reduce Harmful Air Pollution from Leaking Equipment to Resolve Clean Air Act Violations in Michigan
Merit Energy Company, a Texas-based oil and natural gas exploration and production company, has agreed to pay an $885,000 civil penalty and to improve leak detection and repair work practices to settle alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at its natural gas processing facility in Kalkaska, Michigan, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. Emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from leaking equipment impact the environment and may cause serious health effects. VOCs are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
“This comprehensive compliance program continues our efforts to control fugitive emissions and will require Merit Energy to upgrade its monitoring and maintenance practices to help prevent future violations,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Compliance with the clean air laws is essential to maintaining safe, responsible, and reliable sources of domestic energy.”
"People in northwest Michigan will breathe cleaner air as a result of this settlement," said EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. "Merit Energy will be making changes at the company's natural gas processing facility in Kalkaska that will prevent emissions of pollutants that pose risks for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.”
“My office is pleased with this settlement. Prevention or immediate detection and repair are critical when protecting health and the environment,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles Jr. for the Western District of Michigan. “We and the EPA are vigilantly ensuring compliance with the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws.”
In addition to paying a penalty, Merit Energy will implement a comprehensive leak detection and repair (LDAR) program to reduce emissions of VOCs from leaking equipment such as valves and pumps. These emissions, known as “fugitive” emissions because they are not discharged from a stack but rather leak directly from equipment, are generally controlled through work practices, like monitoring and repairing leaks. The settlement requires Merit Energy to implement enhanced work practices, including more frequent leak monitoring, better repair practices and innovative new efforts designed to prevent leaks. In addition, the enhanced LDAR program requires Merit Energy to replace valves with new “low emissions” valves or valve packing material, designed to significantly reduce the likelihood of future leaks of VOCs. This settlement imposes the first enhanced LDAR program at a natural gas processing facility.
According to the complaint, filed simultaneously with the settlement today in the Western District of Michigan, Merit Energy allegedly violated Clean Air Act requirements to monitor and repair leaking equipment and demonstrate compliance with regulations applicable to onshore natural gas processing plants.
The consent decree is subject to a 30 day comment period and final approval by the court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice web site at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.