Earthworks Moves DEQ, Newfield to Reduce Pollution

Complaints result in new equipment, procedures and training in Kingfisher County

Kingfisher, OK — The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) found Newfield Exploration caused illegal air pollution and violated the terms of its permits at two well sites in Kingfisher County, according to documents recently obtained by Earthworks.

Earthworks filed formal complaints to DEQ based on optical gas imaging (OGI) evidence of pollution at Newfield’s Channel and Lori well pads. Earthworks’ certified thermographer captured the videos on August 30, 2017 and filed the complaints on September 6, 2017. This was the team’s first visit to the sites.

“Kingfisher is a hotbed of activity right now, but DEQ isn’t required to inspect every well, unless someone files a complaint,” said Earthworks’ certified thermographer Sharon Wilson. “Complaints help identify and, in cases like this one, move regulators to address potentially hazardous air pollution issues that impact our health and climate. What’s concerning is the thousands of sites we haven’t inspected, and DEQ never will.”

The Channel site was not scheduled for a routine DEQ inspection until 2023, and the Lori site is not on an inspection schedule. As a result of Earthworks’ complaints, DEQ immediately inspected both sites and found that Newfield was violating the terms of its permits–which had just been issued about a year earlier–by not adequately controlling pollution from storage tanks holding hydrocarbon products and wastewater.

DEQ subsequently issued “Alternative Enforcement” Letters to Newfield, indicating that the company would not have to pay fines if it took action to correct pollution problems and adopted a plan to avoid more pollution in the future, including operator training, equipment installation, and improved flaring practices. DEQ notified Newfield that the enforcement cases were closed on August 20, 2018.

“It’s encouraging to see regulators investigate community complaints and address air pollution, but operators like Newfield can afford to pay appropriate fines when they violate the law, Oklahomans can’t afford to risk their health,” said Earthworks’ spokeswoman Hilary Lewis. “In the future, DEQ should issue formal violations and fines to help reduce the impacts of pollution and deter bad industry behavior.”

Earthworks uses the same FLIR GF320 camera that Oklahoma DEQ, other regulators and oil and gas operators nationwide use to find and document pollution at wells and facilities. Earthworks’ thermographers have industry-standard training and certification to interpret the images produced by the camera. The camera detects 20 climate and health-harming pollutants associated with oil and gas including methane, a climate pollutant 86 times worse than carbon dioxide, and other volatile organic compounds like benzene, a known carcinogen.

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