Updated 5:09 p.m.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Colorado Attorney General’s office filed an enforcement action in U.S. District Court on Tuesday against a complex of natural gas processing plants in Weld County.
The civil action alleges that Kerr-McGee Gathering LLC, a subsidiary of Western Midstream Partners, failed to comply with rules to detect and repair leaks of volatile organic compounds. Such leaks are a common precursor of ground-level ozone pollution.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The news comes as Colorado health officials are working to reduce ground-level ozone along the urban corridor around Denver. Last December, the EPA downgraded its air quality rating for the Front Range to “serious.” The area includes parts of Weld County, including the location of the three natural gas process plants owned by Kerr-McGee.
The decision put new pressure on the state to take action against companies contributing to ground-level ozone. It has until July 2021 to meet a compliance deadline.
Michael Silverstein, executive director of the Regional Air Quality Council, said the state is on pace to meet that standard so far, but that’s been helped by weather conditions and reduced activity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since ozone tends to be at its worst in the summer, Silverstein said everyone needs to play their part to help Colorado toward its air quality goals.
“We always encourage industry to achieve compliance with state requirements,” he said.
Silverstein added individuals can help cut ozone levels by cutting down on car trips and mowing their laws after 5 pm.
Ozone is the main component in smog. Exposure can aggravate asthma and make people more susceptible to a range of respiratory diseases.
Kerr-McGee Gathering has been in negotiations with the EPA and the state of Colorado with regard to the alleged non-compliance under the federal Clean Air Act for several years, according to Kristen Shults, vice president of investor relations and communications at Western Midstream.
“While we were surprised, and disappointed, by the EPA’s decision to abruptly file suit in the midst of what we thought were constructive negotiations, we remain committed to working to achieve an equitable resolution to this dispute,” Shults said in an emailed statement.
The facilities in question are located about 60 miles outside Rocky Mountain National Park.
This is a developing story and will be updated.