EPA’s Recent Enforcement Soft on Oklahoma-based Oil and Gas Companies

Environmental Groups Ask that EPA Enforcement be More Even-Handed Following Departure of Administrator Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Washington, D.C. – With the departure of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt back to his home state of Oklahoma, three environmental groups are asking the agency’s new leadership to address what appears to have been a bias in favor of Oklahoma-based oil and gas companies on enforcement issues during his tenure.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Sierra Club and Environment Texas yesterday sent a letter and report to EPA Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine with the results of EIP’s research that examined the agency’s handling of six oil and gas companies that were responsible for similar air pollution violations.

Three of the companies are based in Oklahoma, and three are based elsewhere. EPA has not penalized the Oklahoma-based companies for the violations at all so far, although it fined the other companies millions of dollars and required more than $100 million in cleanup projects, federal records show.

“We respectfully request that you exercise your authority and demonstrate that Oklahoma corporations are not subject to a more relaxed ‘rule of law’ than the one that applies to their competitors,” wrote Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of EIP and former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA.

Over the last three years, EPA penalized the non-Oklahoma oil and gas companies (Noble Energy of Texas, PDC Energy of Colorado, and Slawson Energy, of Kansas) a combined $9.55 million for air pollution violations. In addition, the agency had the companies sign consent decrees that required $146 million in cleanup projects and environmental mitigation efforts expected to reduce more than 20,000 tons of air pollution per year, according to court records.

But three Oklahoma-based oil and gas companies with similar violations – air pollution escaping from storage tanks and flares—have received no penalties or cleanup requirements so far, according to EPA documents.

“These are outrageous cases of EPA not enforcing the clean air laws in Oklahoma when Scott Pruitt was administrator – although the agency is pursuing enforcement in other states against the same oil and gas industry,” said Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director of the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club.

Oklahoma-based Devon Energy – which worked closely with Pruitt to challenge EPA regulations when he was Oklahoma’s Attorney General – signed an administrative order with Pruitt’s EPA on February 22, 2018, that imposed no civil penalties for documented air pollution violations and required no environmental mitigation projects.

Two other Oklahoma-based oil and gas companies, Chesapeake Energy and Gulfport Energy, received violation notices from EPA for similar violations in 2016. But so far, the agency has imposed no enforcement actions, penalties or cleanup requirements, records show.

“Environmental laws should be enforced equally for everyone in all states,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas.  “It looks as though EPA, under Administrator Pruitt, may have been going easy on Oklahoma-based oil and gas companies.  If that’s true, the new administrator should fix that problem immediately.”

The table below summarizes the EPA’s handling of the oil and gas cases.

 EPA Enforcement Against Oil and Gas Producers
Company (based in) Date Civil Penalty Environmental /Mitigation Projects Estimated Cleanup Costs Emissions Reductions (tons per year)
Noble (TX) 4/22/15 $4.95 million $8.5 million $60 million 3,300
PDC (CO) 10/31/17 $2.5 million $1.7 million $18 million 2,025
Slawson (KS) 12/1/16 $2.1 million $2.05 million $4.1 million 14,700
Devon (OK) 2/22/18 0 0 Unknown Unknown
Chesapeake (OK) 12/21/16 Violation notice; no penalty yet No enforcement action to date None yet None yet
Gulfport (OK) 12/22/16 Violation notice; no penalty yet No enforcement action to date None yet None yet

“The unwillingness to enforce the law makes it easier for unscrupulous operators to ignore the rules until they are caught,” EIP wrote in a report it sent to EPA detailing the contrasting penalties in the oil and gas cases.  “That is unfair to law-abiding companies that have spent money to comply, and to those living downwind who are left exposed to illegal pollution.”

For a copy of the report and letter, click here and here.  For copies of the EPA violation notices and consent decrees analyzed for the report, click on the names of the oil and gas companies in the chart above.


Media Contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project (202) 888-2703 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 16-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington D.C., dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.