A natural gas facility near Artesia caught fire last month injuring workers, and the company was fined by the State of New Mexico for failing to adequately report the incident under State law.
DCP Operating Company’s Kristina Booster Station, where natural gas is compressed and processed alerted on Oct. 2 that a fire broke out after an unplanned release of dry gas, according to a notice of violation (NOV) issued by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD).
Fines totaled in $66,800, according to the NOV issued by the OCD.
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An operator arrived to start up the station when he heard a noise “like an air leak,” records show, when the fire started.
The worker had his hair and eyebrows signed in the fire, the report read.
Another operator found the air leak and suffered burns to his face, was admitted to Artesia General Hospital for treatment and released “a few hours later,” read the report.
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The dry gas release that caused the fire exceeded 500,000 cubic feet, the OCD reported, constituting a “major release.”
Records show DCP notified the OCD of the incident on Nov. 7 via phone, and an incident report was filed.
OCD said DCP failed to report the incident within 24 hours as required by state law and did not notify the agency in writing by the 15-day deadline.
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The report said the company violated four separate OCD regulations after the event.
“To date, DCP has not provided the required notification,” the OCD’s report read. “OCD will take into consideration DCP’s good faith effort to comply with the applicable requirements.”
DCP spokesperson Jeanette Alberg said the company received the NOV and was reviewing the notice, contending the company’s reporting polices follow state regulations.
She workers would be retrained on proper protocols to avoid future violations.
“DCP is reviewing the agency’s NOV which was received Nov. 9,” Alberg said in an emailed statement. “To help prevent reporting delays of this nature, DCP is retraining personnel on reporting requirements, procedures, and timelines.”
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If the NOV is not resolved in 30 days, the OCD said it will hold a hearing Jan. 5, 2023.
OCD Director Adrienne Sandoval said the enforcement action was necessary to hold DCP and other oil and gas operators in New Mexico accountable for pollution and public safety problems resulting from extraction operations.
The Division last year enacted new restrictions on air pollution emissions, outlawing spills and natural gas releases, meaning such incidents can incur immediate fines, while also banning routine flaring and requiring operators capture 98 percent of produced gas by 2026 and increasing reporting requirements for leaks and other events.
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“Reporting releases is a crucial part of the regulatory process,” Sandoval said “When operators fail to report releases in a timely fashion, they further jeopardize public health and safety by delaying the timeline for corrective action to be taken.
“This issuance holds DCP accountable for its failure to comply in this instance.”
DCP Operating had a history of alleged violations of New Mexico environmental regulations, and being fined by the state and federal agencies in recent years.
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In June, DCP agreed to pay $150,000 in federal fines to U.S. Treasury and spend $500,000 to curb emissions in the Permian Basin region via a settlement reach through a lawsuit filed by a consortium of environmental groups in the state.
DCP also agreed to automatic penalties in the future of up to $14,500 per ton of hydrogen sulfide more than agreed upon limits, per the settlement signed by environmental groups and company leadership.
After the settlement was signed by the parties in the case, it will go before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval under the Clean Air Act.
And last fall, the company agreed to pay the New Mexico Environment Department about $900,000 for air pollution violations at facilities in Eddy and Lea counties and permanently shut down a gas processing facility in Eunice.
The emissions violations were found at 12 facilities throughout the Permian Basin in southeast New Mexico where DCP gathers and processes gas for some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in region including Chevron, Cimarex, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy and Occidental Petroleum.
NMED cited the company for illegally emitting about 3.8 million pounds of nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) between May 1, 2017 and June 30, 2019.
The initial fine totaled $5.3 million but was reduced via a settlement agreement between the company and NMED.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.