Four environmental advocacy groups, gas company settle Clean Air Act lawsuit

Odessa American
Original article here

A flare burns on May 24, 2018, atop a drill pad on land near Carlsbad. The oil-rich Permian Basin straddles West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. (Courtesy Photo)

The Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Environment Texas, and Texas Campaign for the Environment reached an agreement with gas plant owner, DCP Operating Company, after the company agreed to make improvements that reduce gas flaring.

The company also agreed to pay $500,000 to help improve local air quality and public health in the Odessa area. In addition, the company agreed to pay automatic penalties in the future – up to $14,500 per ton of hydrogen sulfide – if emissions exceed certain limits.

The settlement, announced in a consent decree filed Friday in federal court for the Western District of Texas, resolves a March 2021 lawsuit. The environmental groups, represented by Environmental Integrity Project, filed suit under the Clean Air Act’s “citizen suit” law based on concerns around flaring at the company’s gas processing plant in Goldsmith, near Odessa.

Colin Cox, Attorney with Environmental Integrity Project, said: “When it comes to both climate change and environmental justice, the Biden Administration has been talking the talk for almost two years. But federal enforcement of environmental laws has fallen by over 50% in the past three years. Time is short for the Biden EPA to walk the walk. Today’s settlement is one example of what EPA should be leading to reduce greenhouses gases and toxic pollution in the oil and gas fields.”

Tens of thousands of oil and gas drilling sites in the Permian Basin extract gas, much of which must be stripped of dangerous hydrogen sulfide before it can be piped to Gulf Coast ports and petrochemical plants. The Goldsmith gas processing plant, located about 15 miles northwest of Odessa in Ector County, and other similar plants in the region remove that hydrogen sulfide and other impurities, compress the gas, and send it via pipelines to markets, mainly on the Gulf Coast. This lawsuit focused on the flaring of sour gas, resulting in the emission of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into the air. Prior to this action, the Goldsmith Gas Plant was among the largest emitters of flared acid gas in the state.

Corey Troiani, Senior Campaign Strategy Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment, said: “Today’s settlement goes to show that oil and gas companies can reduce air pollution and flaring when they are motivated to do so. Our state environmental agencies have dropped the ball on pollution enforcement, which is why we need to call on the Biden Administration EPA to ramp up and strengthen basic enforcement of all our nation’s anti-pollution laws. These are EPA’s best tools to drive down not just toxic and asthma-causing pollution but also greenhouse gases.”

Luke Metzger, Executive Director, Environment Texas, said: “Our state agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has turned a blind eye to flaring in the Permian Basin, leaving it up to citizens to enforce environmental laws. We are grateful to see this matter resolved with real benefits to Ector County.”

The proposed consent decree will be reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice before it is formally approved by U.S. District Judge David Counts.

This lawsuit is the second case brought by environmental groups against a large gas plant in Ector County in the past five years. The first suit against James Lake Gas Plant was also resolved in a settlement that reduced sour gas flaring at the plant as well as funded the purchase of replacement air filters for every classroom and office in Ector County Independent School District.