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Fortune 500 Oil Giant to Pay $4 Million for Air Pollution at New Mexico and Texas Facilities

CEO Khai Intela
The recent announcement by the Justice Department has shed light on the environmental impact of a Fortune 500 oil and natural gas company. In a settlement, the Houston-based Apache Corporation has agreed to pay $4...

The recent announcement by the Justice Department has shed light on the environmental impact of a Fortune 500 oil and natural gas company. In a settlement, the Houston-based Apache Corporation has agreed to pay $4 million in civil penalties for unlawful air pollution in New Mexico and Texas. This development serves as a reminder of the urgent need for stricter regulations and greater accountability within the oil and gas industry.

Unlawful Air Pollution and its Consequences

According to the federal lawsuit, Apache Corporation violated the Clean Air Act across 23 of its oil and natural gas production facilities in Lea and Eddy Counties in New Mexico, as well as Loving and Reeves Counties in Texas. One of the key issues highlighted in the lawsuit was the improper storage of oil, which led to a significant increase in air pollutants. These pollutants have the potential to cause lung irritation, exacerbate respiratory illnesses, and negatively impact public health.

The impact of Apache's actions goes beyond the immediate regions affected. The United States, as the second-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, plays a significant role in contributing to climate change. Fossil fuels, such as those produced by Apache, are a major factor in this equation.

Lawsuit: Ozone Levels and the Environmental Impact

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, specifically accuses Apache of causing "unlawful and significant excess emissions" of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. These emissions are key contributors to ground-level ozone, a pollutant that not only irritates the lungs but also exacerbates existing respiratory illnesses such as asthma. In addition, it increases susceptibility to respiratory diseases like pneumonia and bronchitis.

Having identified crude oil and natural gas production as a significant contributor to air pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established guidelines to curb emissions in this industry. However, the period between April 2019 and August 2022 saw repeated violations at Apache plants in New Mexico and Texas, even after multiple notices from the EPA.

During this time frame, air quality monitors in Lea and Eddy Counties in New Mexico recorded rising ozone concentrations that exceeded national standards. The seriousness of the situation cannot be understated, as these noxious pollutants directly endanger the health of neighboring communities and contribute to the escalating global climate crisis.

Apache's Response and Commitment to Change

In response to the settlement, Alexandra Franceschi, a spokesperson for Apache, emphasized that the consent decree resolves violations from years ago. The company has since taken significant steps to address the raised concerns. Modifications have been made to facilities to monitor and capture emissions, inspections have been increased in frequency, and maintenance timelines have been expedited.

Franceschi further expressed Apache's commitment to continuous improvement and sustainability efforts. The company actively collaborates with industry partners through organizations such as the Environmental Partnership and the U.N.'s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership.

A Step Towards a More Sustainable Future

The $4 million payment in civil penalties will be divided evenly between New Mexico's general fund and the federal government. Additionally, Apache has committed to spending at least $4.5 million on design improvements for emission monitoring. Furthermore, over $1 million will be allocated to replace 400 pollutant-emitting pneumatic controllers with more environmentally safe technology by the end of 2024, according to the EPA.

This settlement serves as a reminder that oil and gas operators must be held accountable for their actions. The consequences of their negligence not only have immediate environmental and health impacts but also contribute to the larger global challenge of climate change. Stricter regulations and collaborative efforts between industry leaders and governing bodies are vital for a more sustainable future.

Image Image Source: Saigon Intela