Energy policy — oil and gas: Oxy USA agrees to fines of nearly $650,000 for spring contamination

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

If approved, the $390,000 fine would be among the largest, if not the largest, ever imposed by the commission…

Regulators say in investigative documents that Oxy operated pits without necessary permits in both incidents. In the Cascade Canyon case, leaks occurred in an unlined pit. Had Oxy sought a permit, the state would have required it to line the pit because of the potential for groundwater impacts in the area, regulators say. Tests of one spring in that case reportedly found levels of benzene, a carcinogen, that were 300 times above groundwater standards. The spring’s levels of toluene were 15 times above standards in place at the time, and the state since has made its toluene standards stricter. The contamination also affected up to a half-mile of a tributary to Cascade Canyon…

Under the settlement agreement, Oxy admits no liability and denies there was significant environmental impact. Regulators scaled back their proposed fine amounts 22 percent because of Oxy’s cooperation in the investigation and work in reducing the levels of contamination. Oxy has spent $2.4 million to date on remediation efforts. It spent another $8 million to better protect ground and surface water in the area of the violations by reducing its number of pits and using more storage tanks.

“When we have an incident, we conduct a thorough investigation to determine the cause or causes,” Oxy spokesman Eric Moses said. “At that point we take appropriate measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.” The company regrets that the incidents occurred, he said, adding, “Oxy … is committed to safeguarding the environment and protecting the safety and health of our employees and neighboring communities.” Moses said Oxy responded in a timely manner to the incidents, and neither one affected drinking water or fish and other wildlife.

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