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Colorado natural gas company to pay $3.25 million for alleged violations of federal, state clean air laws

Climate change
Posted at 2:44 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 16:44:33-04

DENVER – A Colorado natural gas company will pay $3.2 million for allegedly violating federal and state clean air laws, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Denver-based DCP Operating Company LP and five other subsidiaries of DCP Midstream LP agreed to settle with the U.S. Department of Justice, the EPA and the state of Colorado on U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

The company is accused of violating leak detection and repair requirements in federal and state clean air laws, resulting in excess emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants to the atmosphere at eight natural gas processing plants in Weld County.

Under the settlement, DCP has agreed to strengthen its leak detection and repair practices at the Greeley, Kersey/Mewbourne, Platteville, Roggen, Spindle, O’Connor and Lucerne natural gas processing plants, as well as the to-be-constructed Bighorn natural gas processing plant, a news release from the EPA states.

The company will also have to install equipment that leaks less pollution to the atmosphere, review compliance with leak detection and repair requirements, and repair leaking equipment faster. DCP will also have to improve staff training for leak detection and repair at its facilities and has agreed to use optical gas imaging technology to improve the visual detection of leaks and address them quickly.

DCP will not also have to install additional pollution reduction measures at the Kersey/Mewbourne natural gas processing plant that are intended to mitigate the harm caused by its past emissions, but in addition, it will have to install a dry seal recompression system on two turbines at the Kersey/Mewbourne plant, a project that will cost an estimated $1.15 million and is expected to reduce VOC emissions by 26 tons per year and methane emissions by 375 tons per year, according to the EPA.

In total, these actions are expected to reduce emissions of over 288 tons of volatile organic compounds and 1,300 tons of methane from production areas near northern Colorado communities, “a majority of which are disproportionately impacted by pollution,” said EPA regional administrator KC Becker.

From her part, CDPHE executive director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said the money from the settlement will go toward the state’s Community Impact Fund, a program which supports community-led environmental justice projects.

The Denver Metro/North Front Range nonattainment area, which includes Weld County, does not meet national air quality standards for ground-level ozone pollution, according to the EPA, and earlier this year, the agency moved to downgrade the northern Front Range ozone issues from “serious” to “severe” in a change that would require officials to cut emissions and pollution in the Denver metro region.

The move means Colorado would have to switch to “reformulated gasoline” (a blend that burns more cleanly than typical gasoline) during the summer months, and businesses would subjected to more regulations on emissions.

Not only would businesses be subjected to more regulations on emissions under the U.S. Clean Air Act aimed to reduce pollutants from 50 ton to 25 tons per year, but according to AAA, the price of gas would also be affected because Colorado is now forced to use “reformulated gasoline” which typically costs between 5-10% more than typical gasoline.

In late April, a report from the American Lung Association gave the Denver metro area earned a failing grade for high ozone days, with Denver and Fort Collins in particular ranking among the worst U.S. cities for air pollution

Ozone contributes to serious public health concerns, including respiratory illness, aggravation of existing heart disease and temporary breathing difficulty for people with asthma, according to the EPA, with young children and the elderly especially sensitive to these impacts. Leaks from equipment at DCP’s plants also emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which is estimated to be responsible for roughly 30% of man-made climate change since pre-industrial times, according to the UN.