Energy firm fined $50,000 for pit violations at fatality site

A Denver-based company will pay a fine of $50,000 under a settlement over alleged violations involving operations of a wastewater pit at an oil and gas site where a worker died in an explosion in January.

Axia Energy agreed to the fine under an agreement with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The commission approved the settlement this week without comment as a consent agenda item.

At issue was Axia’s operation of a pit at a site north of Craig. COGCC staff had inspected it in December, and did so again after a Jan. 3 accident when a 300-barrel storage tank exploded there, killing Jon Herod, 49, an employee of Herod Industries of Craig.

The resulting fire burned pit liners down to the fluid line, but COGCC staff alleged that Axia had indicated the upper liner might have been previously compromised.

Under the settlement, Axia is paying fines of $10,000 apiece for five alleged rule violations, covering areas such as leaks, a lack of wildlife netting/fencing at the pit and a failure to remove oil and/or condensate from it within 24 hours.

Axia has taken issue with some of the allegations, and admits to no wrongdoing under the settlement.

While the accident contributed to discovery of the pit issues, authorities didn’t link them to it.


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As today’s Daily Sentinel editorial (“Methane scare evaporating”) suggests, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) may be “safer” – at least as to uncontrolled methane releases – than strident environmentalists have contended.  However, to dismiss the concerns of anti-fracking activists as a “canard” grossly overstates the conclusiveness of the cited study.  Nevertheless, it is indeed refreshing that the debate is now being informed by scientific evidence.

Meanwhile, Dennis Webb’s accompanying report (“Energy firm fined $50,000 for pit violations at fatality site”) clearly suggests that oil & gas operations aren’t nearly as “safe” as “some folks have led us to believe”, that the industry still cannot be trusted to voluntarily control the many “potential environmental hazards associated with drilling and fracking” and/or to comply with existing rules, and thus that rigorous enforcement of common-sense evidence-based regulations remains imperative.

As Dennis Webb likewise reported (“Gas drillers leery of redrawn maps for protection of wildlife”), the oil & gas industry continues to resist common-sense regulations based on scientific evidence pertinent to its legal responsibility to minimize impacts on wildlife.  Thus, it is premature to allow the “good news” about methane to induce complacency.

Moreover, the Daily Sentinel remains increasingly remiss in failing to call for repeal of the so-called “Halliburton Exception” to the Safe Drinking Water Act – which legally exempts “fracking” from the stricter regulatory scrutiny to which it would otherwise be legally subjected if properly regulated as “underground injection wells”.

Every time the industry touts its “safety” – and every time scientific evidence lends some credence to such assertions – the rationale for exempting “fracking” from long-standing and well-established environmental laws (including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts) becomes less convincing.

And, as anecdotal evidence continues to accumulate that self-serving industry assertions merit less deference than claimed, the rationale for ending fracking’s dubiously unique exemptions becomes more compelling.

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