Texas Oil, Gas Firm Apache to Pay $4 Million Fine Over Alleged Air Pollution

Apache Corporation is also expected to pay an additional $5.5 million to help address the environmental harm caused by its alleged violations.
Texas Oil, Gas Firm Apache to Pay $4 Million Fine Over Alleged Air Pollution
Dust blows around a crude oil pump jack and flare burning excess gas at a drill pad in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, on Nov. 25, 2019. (Angus Mordant/Reuters)
Katabella Roberts

Apache Corp., an oil and gas producer, will pay $4 million in civil penalties to settle a lawsuit that alleged it failed to comply with state and federal clean air regulations in New Mexico and Texas, the Justice Department (DOJ) said on Feb. 14.

The firm is also expected to spend an additional $5.5 million to help address any environmental harm caused by its alleged violations, the DOJ said.

The agreement settles a civil lawsuit filed jointly by the United States on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico against Apache.

Officials allege that the Houston-based oil and gas firm failed to comply with federal and state requirements for capturing and controlling air emissions. The alleged noncompliance occurred at 23 of its oil and gas production facilities located in Lea County and Eddy County in New Mexico, as well as Loving County and Reeves County in Texas, violating the Clean Air Act.

According to the plaintiffs, the alleged violations were identified through field investigations and repeated aerial surveillance conducted between 2019 and 2022.

During this time, Apache’s alleged improper storage of the oil at several of its facilities “resulted in, and may continue to result in, unlawful and significant excess emissions” of volatile organic compounds (VOC), nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide, the plaintiffs said.

According to the lawsuit, VOCs, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide are all criteria pollutants for which EPA has enforced National Ambient Air Quality Standards due to the pollutants’ “adverse effects on human health and the environment.”

They are all “key components in the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis,” the EPA said.

Apache Must Reduce Emissions

Between 2019 and 2022, air quality monitors in the New Mexico counties of Lea and Eddy registered rising ozone concentrations that exceeded 95 percent of the national standards, according to the lawsuit, prompting NMED to take action to reduce ozone pollution.

“Today’s settlement will ensure compliance at hundreds of oil and gas facilities across New Mexico and Texas,” said Todd Kim, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“Under the settlement, over 400 Apache facilities will be required to take extensive steps to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, which contribute to smog, as well as methane gas, which is a significant contributor to climate change.”

The $4 million fine will be split evenly between the United States and the state of New Mexico, with New Mexico’s portion going to the state’s general fund, according to the DOJ. Apache is also required to make sure 422 of its well pads in New Mexico and Texas comply with regulations.

The company also will spend at least $4.5 million to implement “extensive design, operation, maintenance, and monitoring improvements, including installing new tank pressure monitoring systems that will provide advance notification of potential emissions and allow for immediate response action by the company.”

Apache Responds

Additionally, it will spend $1 million to “offset the harm caused by the alleged violations” including by replacing more than 400 pollutant-emitting pneumatic devices with nonemitting devices.

The DOJ anticipates Apache Corp.’s actions going forward will result in annual reductions of more than 9,650 tons of VOCs, and more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, measured as carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents.

Apache is a wholly owned subsidiary of APA Corp., which explores for and develops oil and natural gas resources in the United States, according to the DOJ.

The settlement “resolves alleged violations from years ago,” and the oil and gas firm had worked swiftly to remedy the alleged violations, Apache spokesperson Alexandra Franceschi told USA TODAY in a statement.

Apache has modified its facilities to monitor and capture emissions, increased the rate at which it conducts site inspections, and “expedited maintenance timelines,” she added.

“Moving forward, the consent decree represents our commitment to continuous improvement across our facilities in the Permian Basin. We also continue to collaborate with industry partners through organizations such as the Environmental Partnership and the U.N.’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership in striving toward a more sustainable future.”