Texas-based, Noble Energy Inc on Wednesday signed a ''first-of-its-kind'' legal settlement; an estimated $73.4 million agreement aimed at stopping pollutant leaks from its plant and improving air quality in Colorado.
In 2012, regulators examining the big tanks used to store Noble Energy Inc's petroleum found nothing amiss at first instance. But when they used thermal cameras, the noxious pollutants from the tanks seemed to be billowing like smoke from a chimney.
The finding by environmental officials led to the documenting of a major, yet hidden, source of air pollution in the Denver area, one that contributed to the region's high levels of smog.
The settlement was announced jointly by US and Colorado officials. The settlement included about $60 million, according to Justice Department's estimates, for equipment upgrades at thousands of storage tanks to prevent leaks.
Noble Energy, while also consenting to a nearly $5-million civil penalty agreed to contribute $8.5 million to environmental remediation projects.
According to Justice Department officials, Noble was not aware of the problem and when shown evidence, agreed to a costly retrofitting that would reduce future emissions from its operations in oil and gas fields in central Colorado.
John C Cruden, head of the Justice Department's environmental enforcement division said, the department hoped this would set a good example for other companies, The Washington Post reported.
The Houston-based company's oil storage tanks were emitting thousands of tons of volatile organic chemicals a year due to the undersized vapour control systems, adding to the region's ozone pollution problem.
Under the settlement, the second biggest driller in Colorado, would evaluate, make upgrades and carry out inspections of its 3,400 clusters - or batteries - of tanks in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, stretching from Denver to the Wyoming border.
"We're implementing a serious action plan through which we will evaluate tank batteries throughout our DJ Basin operations, remove the tank batteries that should be removed, improve others and implement enhanced environmental strategies," Gary Willingham, Noble's executive vice president of operations, said in a statement.
The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that Noble would use an infrared camera to inspect its emissions controls, which would also be inspected by a third-party. According to the agencies, the findings would be made public which should help other energy companies reduce their emissions as well.