Firm Fined for Offshore Oil, Chemical Releases

Monday, October 20, 2014 @ 03:10 PM gHale

The owner of a floating oil platform tethered to a wellhead 125 miles south of New Orleans until earlier this year, will pay a $1 million fine to settle a federal lawsuit over illegal discharges of oil and dispersants.

ATP Infrastructure Partners, LP agreed to the settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Justice Department (DoJ). The agencies called this settlement the first joint judicial enforcement action for EPA and BSEE involving violations of both the Clean Water Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which governs offshore oil drilling and exploration.

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The BSEE came out of the Minerals Management Service in the aftermath of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to oversee environmental enforcement and safety issues. It is part of the Department of the Interior.

ATP Oil & Gas Corp. of Houston, Texas, operated the ATP Innovator platform atop its Gomez well at Lease Block 711 in the Mississippi Canyon. However, that company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 2012, and the case is still pending. ATP Oil & Gas is partners with GE Energy Financial Services in ATP Infrastructure Partners, the limited partnership that owns the rig and is the subject of the settlement agreement.

The original lawsuit was against ATP Oil & Gas and ATP Infrastructure Partners in 2013. The portion of the lawsuit against ATP Oil & Gas remains unresolved.

The 2013 lawsuit said the rig operated under an environmental permit that allowed it to discharge a limited amount of oil in wastewater from the rig, and had to monitor for oil where the wastewater released based on signs of visible sheen.

Its permit also required the operator to “minimize the discharge of dispersants, surfactants and detergents except as necessary to comply with the safety requirements” of federal agencies.

“The restriction is imposed because detergents disperse and emulsify oil, thereby increasing toxicity and making the detection of a discharge of oil more difficult,” the permit said.

In March 2012, BSEE inspectors aboard the ATP Innovator rig found a metal tube that once connected to the wastewater outfall pipe.

“The metal tube and connection to the outfall pipe was hidden in the rafters at a location downstream” of equipment used to treat the waste water and downstream from a point where the water was sampled. The tubing was connected to a 550-gallon tank containing Cleartron ZB-103, a dispersant containing an amide surfactant and methanol, which is used to break apart oil molecules into tiny droplets.

The manufacturer’s “material safety data sheet” for the dispersant includes a warning: “prevent runoff entering surface waterways … Harmful to aquatic life,” the complaint said.

“ATP contractors working aboard the ATP Innovator referred to the on-board use of Cleartron ZB-103 as ‘the soap’ and ‘the sheen buster,'” the complaint said.

The $1 million fine will deposit in the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust fund, managed by the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center. The fund pays for federal response activities and to compensate for damages when there is a discharge or substantial threat of discharge of oil or other hazardous substances.

In addition to the fine, ATP Infrastructure Partners also will remove the dispersant pipe from the rig and seal the connection point. The rig ended up relocated to a harbor in the Corpus Christi, Texas, area earlier this year.

Before the rig sees action again, the company must certify it has the equipment and operational plans necessary to meet Clean Water Act requirements, that its surface production-safety systems will end up maintained to protect the environment under BSEE regulations, and the rig’s operations end up performed in a safe manner in accordance with BSEE regulations.

The rig’s wastewater treatment operations and safety systems will also undergo an independent audit for compliance with the environmental and offshore oil laws.

The proposed consent decree, filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval.

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