W&t Offshore, Inc. Pleads Guilty And Is Sentenced For Violations Of Clean Water Act Related To Offshore Production In Gulf Of Mexico
W&T OFFSHORE, INC., a publicly traded company with offices in Houston, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana was sentenced today to pay a total monetary penalty of $1,000,000 by United States District Court Judge Eldon E. Fallon after pleading guilty to one felony count of violating Title 33, United States Code, Section 1319(c)(4) for tampering with, falsifying or rendering inaccurate a monitoring method required to be maintained under the Clean Water Act, and one misdemeanor count of violating Title 33, United States Code, Section 1319(c)(1)(a) for the negligent discharge of oil into the waters of the United States, announced U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente.
According to the court documents the charges stem from conduct on W&T OFFSHORE, INC.’s, EW 910 Platform, a manned, offshore facility designed for the production of oil and gas located in the Gulf of Mexico. From at least January 1, 2009, and continuing to present, W&T OFFSHORE, INC., operated EW 910 Platform and was required to conduct its production operations on EW 910 Platform in accordance with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit which imposed limitations upon the type and amount of pollutants that W&T OFFSHORE, INC., was legally allowed to discharge into the Gulf of Mexico. As required by the NPDES Permit, W&T OFFSHORE, INC., collected and submitted monthly samples of its produced water discharged from EW 910 Platform into the Gulf of Mexico to a laboratory for testing to determine whether the quantity of oil and grease contained in the produced water did not exceed a daily maximum of 42mg/l and a monthly average of 29 mg/l as required by its Permit.
However, on at least six occasions from on or about January 1, 2009, through on or about December 31, 2009, employees of a contractor working for W&T OFFSHORE, INC., on EW 910 Platform ran the produced water samples collected through coffee filters before submitting the samples to the laboratory for testing. Running the produced water samples through coffee filters before it went into the sample jars resulted in the samples not being representative of actual produced water discharge conditions. The employees of the contractor working for W&T OFFSHORE, INC., who tampered with the testing believed that running the produced water samples through the coffee filters would ensure that the samples did not fail the laboratory tests, and thus, W&T OFFSHORE, INC., would not incur additional laboratory costs and regulatory scrutiny.
Court documents also reveal that on or about November 22, 2009, a process upset on the EW 910 Platform resulted in the release of oil from the facility’s flare boom that coated sections of the open grating on the platform and production equipment. Visible oil staining remained on the platform after a professional cleaning company worked for three days to clean the platform. On or about November 27, 2009, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) inspectors arrived at EW 910 Platform and observed oil on the platform and a light, visible sheen on the water around the platform due to ongoing cleaning efforts. W&T OFFSHORE, INC., had not reported the sheen to the Coast Guard National Response Center at the time the BSEE inspector arrived despite the visible sheen on the water.
W&T OFFSHORE, INC., was sentenced to pay a total monetary penalty of $1,000,000 with $700,000 designated as fines and $300,000 designated as community service payments. W&T OFFSHORE, INC., was placed on a three year term of probation during which the company is required to have the majority of its 107 offshore facilities audited pursuant to the Safety and Environmental Management Systems (“SEMS”) audit as described in Title 30, C.F.R. Part 250. According to the Environmental Compliance Plan, by the end of the last year of probation, 75% of W&T OFFSHORE, INC.’s, Gulf of Mexico facilities will have been audited.
"We appreciate the efforts of the Department of Justice in reaching this agreement," said
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director James A. Watson. "We are committed to holding companies accountable for operating in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, and we will continue to work closely with DOJ to enforce the laws and regulations governing offshore energy exploration, development and production activities."
Mary Kendall, Deputy Inspector General of the Department of Interior, Office of
Inspector General said, "This settlement, the result of collaboration and cooperation between the OIG, DOJ, EPA and BSEE, should send a clear message to deter companies from engaging in fraudulent and noncompliant activities."
“One of EPA’s primary missions is to ensure that federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively. To do that, we must receive accurate and honest tests and measurements,” said Ivan Vikin, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Louisiana. “Violators who submit false information and illegally discharge pollutants undermine our efforts to protect the public and the environment. These illegal actions cannot and will not be tolerated.”
This case was referred by the Houma District of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, investigated by the U.S. Department of Interior-OIG and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-CID. The case was prosecuted by Emily K. Greenfield and Dorothy Manning Taylor.