Enterprise compressor station under scrutiny for Clean Air Act violations

by Ed Williams, Special to the Aspen Daily News
Records reveal a history of pollution and compliance problems at oil and gas site

The Enterprise Products Jackrabbit Compressor Station, which pulls natural gas from area wells to send into pipelines running through Garfield County, has been in violation of state and federal laws on air pollution for at least three consecutive years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Located on top of a remote hill just west of Parachute Creek, federal regulators have had their eye on the facility since 2011, when the EPA flagged it and five other facilities on an agency watch list of potential serious polluters in Colorado. The Enterprise compressor station is the only facility still on the EPA list from 2011 because of alleged continued Clean Air Act breaches.

The majority of past violations at the compressor station come from the facility exceeding its limits on emissions of so-called hazardous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, hexane and volatile organic compounds, as well as permit violations stemming from Enterprise’s alleged failure to install pollution-limiting equipment.

The Colorado Department of Pubic Health and Environment (CDPHE), which enforces the federal Clean Air Act on the ground, fined Enterprise more than $250,000 for those violations in 2011, along with an additional $16,000 fine for benefiting financially by not complying with environmental rules.

“Instead of investing in compliance, they were able to invest that money elsewhere,” potentially profiting from the funds that should have gone to pollution controls, said Shannon McMillan, who oversees field inspections for the CDPHE’s air pollution division.

She added that the previous Clean Air Act breaches at the Jackrabbit Compressor Station have had an impact on the environment, though it’s unclear exactly what those impacts are.

Anytime a facility exceeds its emissions limit, “we find that there is some impact on public health or the environment,” McMillan said, adding that the agency does not determine the specific health or environmental consequences of a given violation.

But despite the steepest fines levied by the EPA in Garfield County for air pollution violations in recent years, regulators have been unable to bring the Jackrabbit Compressor Station into compliance with air pollution laws. State regulators are now in a new round of enforcement action against the compressor station, according to the EPA’s enforcement and compliance history found online.

Inspectors have alleged the facility is currently in violation of the same rules it has been fined for in the past. They also have found multiple violations of state and federal rules aimed at preventing and reporting benzene emissions.

According to the EPA’s facility report on its website, inspectors allege that Enterprise is in violation of 10 different Clean Air Act rules at the Jackrabbit Compressor Station.

Representatives from the CDPHE would not say what the specific current violations are, citing agency rules that prohibit commenting on active investigations.

Although records show violations at the station are current as of late August, Enterprise spokesman Rick Rainey said in an email that “Enterprise has already resolved, or is in the process of resolving, the conditions that prompted the alleged violations at the Garfield County compressor station.”

Rainey said the company has put measures in place to prevent “future occurrences,” but declined to provide details on what those measures are. The company did pay the fines from previous violations.

Enterprise is the 63rd most profitable corporation in America with $44.3 billion in revenues, and has the highest profits of any pipeline company, according to Fortune 500.

Officials at the CDPHE couldn’t answer whether a facility in the state has ever been shut down based on air pollution or other environmental health violations. But McMillan said via email that the division “does not have a protocol for such, and any decisions to require a shut down would be made on a case-by-case basis.”

Breaches of pollution laws are not uncommon in rural Garfield County, where a vast array of industrial infrastructure supports over 10,000 active oil and gas wells. EPA documents show Garfield County is home to 16 percent (eight out 49 facilities) of the state’s “high priority violators,” a term used to denote facilities under scrutiny from regulators for alleged Clean Air Act violations.

Like the Enterprise compressor station, several priority violators are located in the heavily industrialized area north of Parachute, near the site of a natural gas leak that sprung from a Williams Midstream-owned pipeline valve and contaminated the groundwater and the nearby creek with benzene earlier this year.

Editors Note: Ed Williams is a reporter for KDNK radio in Carbondale. An interactive map of Clean Air Act violators in Garfield County and more of KDNK’s coverage of oil and gas issues can be found at www.kdnk.org.