Oil And Gas Producer Fines Doubled In 2015

<p>Ed Andrieski/AP</p>
<p>The sun sets behind an oil pump jack near Fredrick, Colo., in 2012.</p>
Photo: Oil drilling, pump jack, Colorado, sunset
The sun sets behind an oil pump jack near Fredrick, Colo., in 2012.

Oil and gas companies were slapped with a record level of fines last year, according to new data from state regulators.

The two big reasons: State lawmakers increased fines on oil and gas drillers. And, according to Matt Lapore who directs the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, they’ve doubled the number inspectors on staff.

"I don’t think there’s been an increase in failures of compliance, I think there’s been an increase in identifying those and having the staff to go ahead and carry out the enforcement action," he said. "We’re doing more inspections, they’re finding more violations, and we have an increase in our enforcement staff to go ahead and prosecute those violations."

That meant more than $3 million in fines last year, which is double the amount in 2014. There's a caveat, however, that 40 percent of penalty dollars are waived as long as the operator comes into compliance.

Many of the penalties were assessed against smaller producers with fewer resources. And in some cases, penalties were suspended because a company’s financial situation had become dire, as oil prices have plunged.

OSHA Levies Fines In Greeley Man's Death

More recently, two oil field companies have been fined nearly $15,000 after a 57-year-old Greeley man died from being exposed to toxic vapors in 2014.

According to the Denver Post, DJ Basin Transport of Greeley agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and Texas-based Gibson Energy LLC will pay a $9,800 fine.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration imposed the fines after John McNulty succumbed while working on a catwalk between storage tanks.

An investigation by federal health officials determined McNulty likely died after inhaling toxic vapors while measuring oil storage tanks.