Complaint filed by environmental group leads to findings against energy producer

Following complaints filed by the environmental group Earthworks, Oklahoma regulators found Houston-based Newfield Exploration had caused illegal air pollution and violated terms of its permits at two well sites in Kingfisher County. The findings were made in the summer of 2018.

The group announced the findings this week by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and stated the claims were based on recently-obtained documents.

Earthworks filed formal complaints with the DEQ based on optical gas imaging evidence of pollution at Newfield’s Channel and Lori well pads. A certified thermographer captured the videos on Aug. 30, 2017 and Earthworks filed the complaints Sept. 6, 2017. It was the team’s first visit to the sites and was similar to how Earthworks also based complaints filed against a firm operating a well south of Stillwater in 2018.

“Kingfisher is a hotbed of activity right now, but DEQ isn’t required to inspect every well, unless someone files a complaint,” said Earthworks’ certified thermographer Sharon Wilson, in a press release from the nonprofit group. “Complaints help identify and, in cases like this one, move regulators to address potentially hazardous air pollution issues that impact our health and climate. What’s concerning is the thousands of sites we haven’t inspected, and DEQ never will.”

Earthworks explained that the Channel site was not on schedule to be inspected by DEQ until 2023. The Lori site is not on an inspection schedule. But DEQ immediately inspected both sites following the complaints filed by Earthworks. The regulatory agency inspected both sites and found that Newfield was allegedly violating the terms of its permits, which had just been issued nearly a year earlier. The firm reportedly had not adequately controlled pollution from the storage tanks holding hydrocarbon products and wastewater.

The release indicated that the DEQ issued “Alternative Enforcement” letters to Newfield stating that the company would not face fines if it took action to correct the pollution problems and created a plan to avoid more pollution in the future. DEQ notified Newfield that the enforcement cases were closed Aug. 20, 2018.

“It’s encouraging to see regulators investigate community complaints and address air pollution, but operators like Newfield can afford to pay appropriate fines when they violate the law—Oklahomans can’t afford to risk their health,” said Hilary Lewis, a spokeswoman for Earthworks. “In the future, DEQ should issue formal violations and fines to help reduce the impacts of pollution and deter bad industry behavior.”

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