A Texas-based energy company has agreed to pay a $207,150 fine in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for polluting air around Ignacio for more than 10 years.
Court documents show the Elm Ridge Exploration Co. violated the Clean Air Act by operating engines that are not in compliance with emission and operating limitations. The company also failed to get written approval from the EPA to install several high-pollutant engines.
Elm Ridge owns the Ignacio Gas Treating Plant on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation about eight miles west of Ignacio. The plant has been in operation since 1999 and accepts low-pressure raw and untreated natural gas from about 140 surrounding wells owned by the company, according to the court complaint filed by the EPA.
The plant became a major source of hazardous air pollutants in 2000, after two reciprocating internal-combustion engines were installed, the complaint states.
“We know from years of monitoring in the Four Corners that the pollutants being put out by these engines have been near to EPA air-quality limits,” said Bruce Baizel, staff attorney for Earthworks. “They’re basically diesel-generator engines.”
The pollutants from the engines can exacerbate health issues such as asthma, Baizel said.
The EPA became aware of the violations in September 2010, when Elm Ridge submitted an operating permit application, said Hans Buenning, an environmental engineer with EPA.
An EPA inspection shortly after the company filed for the permit revealed the emission violations. Elm Ridge also failed to file various compliance reports over its years of operation. As part of the settlement, Elm Ridge will pay $67,850 in unpaid permit fees.
“To be honest, if the company hadn’t filed with the EPA initially this could have gone on indefinitely,” Baizel said.
The company is required under the settlement to replace the existing compressor engines with lower-emitting engines equipped with pollution-control equipment, replace Southern Ute tribal members’ older wood stoves with EPA-certified wood stoves and implement a project that will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and conserve natural gas at the plant, according to an EPA news release.
The EPA worked with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on the settlement, Buenning said. The public has until Nov. 5 to comment on the agreement.