Federal and state regulators sued Denbury Resources of Plano, Texas, on Thursday, and filed a proposed consent decree at the same time. Members of the public have 30 days to comment on the settlement.
The lawsuit , filed at the behest of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, documents oil spills in nine oil fields in central and southern Mississippi, plus one in Citronelle, Alabama, between 2008 and 2015. The EPA says Denbury dumped about 7,000 barrels of oil or mixtures of oil and water. The lawsuit also alleges Denbury failed to submit required facility response and spill prevention and control plans.
Denbury isn’t admitting fault, but under the consent decree it would agree to enhanced reporting responsibilities as well as a “mechanical integrity program” that calls for surveying and inspecting operations and making repairs to pipelines, tanks and machinery based on how severe an oil spill threat each problem poses.
“In good faith throughout the negotiation period, we have begun implementing the program at various levels in the different fields,” company spokesman John Mayer said Monday.
The federal government will get $2.4 million in civil penalties, while the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality will get $1.1 million.
Denbury extracts oil primarily by pumping carbon dioxide underground in aging oil fields, pushing out oil that won’t come out through conventional drilling. It’s the largest oil producer in Mississippi.
The lawsuit counts 25 oil spills between 2008 and 2014. Many of them were only a few barrels, but a few were larger. Officials say that in summer 2013 Denbury spilled 5,000 barrels of oil and water mixture in the Tinsley field in central Mississippi’s Yazoo County after a pipe shifted because of ground settlement and erosion. A number of the spills came from corrosion or rupture of pipes, and Mayer said they were cleaned up long ago.
“Most of them were completed within days of the occurrence,” he said.
Andrew Whitehurst of the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group, said it’s disappointing to see Denbury having so many problems after reworking the Mississippi fields in the early 2000s.
“The state bends over backwards to accommodate business with permits, and years later we see that the state’s rivers and creeks were routinely polluted due to the company’s sloppy practices and corroding pipes, tanks and collection systems,” Whitehurst wrote in an email.
Denbury also paid a $662,500 fine to Mississippi regulators in 2013 after an uncontrolled carbon dioxide blowout in the Tinsley field led to suffocated wildlife and the removal of 27,000 tons of drilling mud and contaminated soil and 32,000 barrels of liquids.
The lawsuit says regulators in 2014 concluded Denbury had failed to submit required facility response and spill prevention, control and cleanup plans for a number of facilities. The consent decree says Denbury has now submitted those plans. Mayer said the missing plans have “long since” been addressed and said Denbury objected to the lawsuit mentioning them in the first place.
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