EnCana to pay $200,000 over bird deaths

EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. will pay $200,000 in community-service payments and fines after pleading guilty Thursday to two misdemeanor violations related to the deaths of some 60 federally protected birds in western Colorado and Wyoming.

The deaths involved waterfowl, owls and other birds covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They occurred at uncovered natural gas drilling and reserve pits and wastewater-storage facilities in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, where EnCana operates in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, and in three Wyoming counties.

Under a plea agreement, the company was sentenced to fines of $30,000, ordered to pay another $170,000 in community-service payments and placed on 18 months of probation. It must implement an environmental-compliance plan to use netting, floating bird balls, pitless drilling systems or other means of keeping birds from coming in contact with oily waters.

EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said that plan is “well under way.”

“We’re working to minimize sources of hazards for birds as part of that plan. Our hope is that we won’t have further violations as a result of implementation of the plan,” he said.

The community-service funds will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the fines will be given to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund for projects in Colorado and Wyoming.

The plea agreement says 19 birds died at EnCana’s Colorado operations, and more than 40 died in Wyoming.

The agreement says EnCana failed in 2005-06 to heed warnings from federal agencies that its uncovered pits in Colorado would attract and kill migratory birds. After the deaths of several birds, it cooperated with federal investigators by reporting mortalities and taking steps to prevent bird deaths.

EnCana said it spent more than $1 million in Colorado to install an avian radar system at a storage pond and to take other steps, including hiring personnel to address the bird problems. It closed 197 pits in the state from 2006-09 and netted about two dozen.

Last summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found many uncovered water sites at EnCana’s Wyoming operations, where bird deaths later were reported.

The company said it spent more than $2.9 million on remediation efforts in Wyoming.

Last year, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts and agreed to pay $600,000 in community-service payments and fines following the deaths of about 85 birds in Rio Blanco County in Colorado and in four other states.


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