XTO Energy Inc. to Make System Upgrades and Undertake Projects to Reduce Air Pollution on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota
The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with Houston-based XTO Energy Inc., resolving alleged Clean Air Act violations stemming from the company’s oil and gas production operations on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
The settlement resolves claims that XTO failed to adequately design, operate, and maintain vapor control systems on its storage tanks at oil and natural gas well pads, resulting in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 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.
As part of the settlement, XTO will ensure the adequacy of its vapor control systems and improve its operation and maintenance practices, monitoring, and inspections. These improvements to XTO’s operations on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation will significantly reduce VOC emissions, including through monthly use of infrared cameras during inspections to better detect and respond to air emissions. In addition, EPA estimates that XTO will spend at least $450,000 to fund an environmental mitigation project. XTO will also pay a $320,000 civil penalty.
EPA estimates that XTO’s system upgrades will annually reduce the emission of at least 2,200 tons of VOCs. Improved operation and maintenance will result in additional emissions reductions. Today’s settlement resolves alleged violations at all 20 of XTO’s well pads on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
“This settlement will reduce harmful air pollutants, benefiting the health of residents of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, as well as those living in surrounding communities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “This case further demonstrates the shared commitment of the Justice Department and EPA to enforce the nation’s environmental laws, including in Indian Country.”
“This settlement with XTO Energy will reduce emissions from its production facilities on the Fort Berthold Reservation and will benefit tribal communities and regional air quality,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento. “EPA will continue to work with energy producers and our state and tribal partners to ensure that oil and natural gas extraction occurs in accordance with the laws that protect our air and water resources.”
As part of the settlement, XTO has agreed to evaluate the design and capacity of its vapor control systems, modify those vapor control systems as necessary to ensure that that they are adequately designed and sized to collect and convey emissions to a control device, implement an enhanced inspection and maintenance program, and undertake monthly infrared camera inspections to identify any emissions and take prompt corrective action to address those emissions.
XTO will also conduct an environmental mitigation project to install and operate auto-gauging equipment on storage tanks to reduce how often thief hatches are opened. This project is expected to significantly reduce VOC emissions.
XTO’s oil and natural gas production operations in North Dakota use storage tanks to store produced oil and produced water. The oil and water are stored at separate well pads prior to transport by pipeline or truck. Multiple storage tanks are typically present at a well pad and are frequently controlled by the same vapor control system.
The case arose from EPA’s inspections and information requests in 2015 that found violations related to VOC emissions from produced oil and produced water storage tanks, due to undersized vapor control systems and inadequate operation and maintenance.
This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to reduce public health and environmental impacts from energy extraction activities. For more information about EPA’s enforcement initiative, click here: http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/national-enforcement-initiative-ensuring-energy-extraction-activities-comply.
The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. Information about submitting a public comment is available at: www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.