EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — West Texas gas companies have agreed to a settlement with the United States Department of Justice that will require $5 million in safety improvements and Clean Air Act compliance at eight natural gas processing plants.

On Friday, five subsidiaries of West Texas Gas Inc. will spend up to $5 million on compliance measures that resolves allegations in a complaint by the federal government, which says the Clean Air Act chemical accident prevention requirements were violated at several natural gas processing plants.

The companies will pay more than $3 million in civil penalties to resolve claims stemming from fatal chemical accidents, as well as accident prevention program violations.

“West Texas Gas’ Clean Air Act violations cost lives,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s settlement sends a strong message to industry that the Justice Department will vigorously enforce Clean Air Act requirements that protect workers, neighboring communities and the environment by preventing dangerous chemical releases like these.”

The civil complaint alleges that WTG Gas Processing L.P., WTG South Permian Midstream LLC, and Davis Gas Processing Inc. violated sections of the Clean Air Act and the related chemical accident prevention regulations.

The EPA identified Clean Air Act violations on Friday during a series of inspections of the companies’ natural gas processing plants. 

The inspections were initiated after a catastrophic fire in November 2015 killed an employee in Coahoma, Texas.

Additionally, thousands of pounds of flammable and toxic substances were released into the air. 

Relatedly, a criminal case involving another West Texas Gas subsidiary that operated a plant in Big Lake, Texas pleaded guilty to one count of negligent endangerment and one count of violating the Clean Air Act.

The case in Big Lake arose from an August 2018 gas leak, and the plant admitted that hydrogen sulfide was negligently released into the ambient air.

Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic gas that can compromise the nervous system and respiratory tracts, and can also lead to life-threatening health effects.

One employee died from exposure sustained while working at the plant and another was injured.

The company also admitted to knowingly failing to properly update its risk management plan after the incident, which is required by law.

“This company’s blatant disregard of clean air regulations had devastating real-world consequences,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah for the Northern District of Texas. “Our hearts go out to the family of the employee killed in the chemical incident at the plant in Big Lake. We are proud to hold the company criminally responsible, and hopeful that the safety measures stipulated in the civil settlement will protect against similar incidents.”

Friday’s settlement is part of the DOJ’s and EPA’s ongoing efforts to protect public health and the environment by preventing industrial accidents involving dangerous chemicals.

“The tragic deaths due to the failure by West Texas Gas to safely manage hazardous chemicals, as required by law, demonstrates the severe dangers that these violations pose to workers, nearby communities and the environment,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s settlement requires West Texas Gas to take concrete steps to prevent future accidents and will improve air quality in the vicinity of these facilities.”

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