Enforcement

Gasco Energy, Inc. Clean Water Act Settlement

(DENVER, CO - February 4, 2014) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that Gasco Energy, Inc., a Denver-based company, has agreed to permanently close a natural gas production well and fully restore approximately 2.3 acres of damaged wetlands in a floodplain adjacent to the Green River in Utah’s Uintah Basin.    

Overview

Gasco Energy, Inc. (“Gasco”) is a natural gas exploration and production company that focuses on developing natural gas resources in the Rocky Mountain region. 

This settlement resolves United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) enforcement counterclaims against Gasco Energy, Inc., for violations of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) related to the company’s illegal discharge of dredged and fill material into wetlands adjacent to the Green River in Uintah County, Utah.

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Background/Violations

On or about December 20, 2007 Gasco commenced work to drill a gas well known as LT 12-23 located within the flood plain of the Green River in jurisdictional wetlands.  Gasco also constructed an access road across a wetland located at a separate site designated as LT 24-14.  Gasco did not obtain a CWA Section 404 permit prior to discharging fill material into waters of the United States at either of these sites, as required by the CWA. 

On September 29, 2011, EPA Region 8 issued an administrative compliance order (Findings of Violation and Administrative Order for Compliance) to Gasco under CWA Section 309(a), which ordered the company to remove the fill material and submit a restoration plan for the wetlands impacted by the well drilling activity.  

In response, on June 25, 2012, Gasco filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in the District of Colorado petitioning for review of the compliance order as final agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) requesting the court to set aside the order. 

On September 5, 2012, the government filed counterclaims against Gasco alleging that, in 2007- 2008, Gasco drilled a production well within the floodplain of the Green River and illegally filled over two acres of wetlands located in an area designated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as critical habitat for several endangered species of fish, specifically the Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail, humpback chub, and razorback sucker. The government counterclaims sought that Gasco stop discharging pollutants into waters of the U.S., pay civil penalties, and fully restore the damaged wetlands.

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Injunctive Relief

The Consent Decree (CD) requires that Gasco address the CWA actions by taking the following actions:

  • Restore the wetlands on site by abandoning and plugging the gas wells and performing restoration activities, including the removal of fill and reseeding and planting of wetlands vegetation as set forth in a restoration and monitoring plan;
  • Monitor the site restoration for at least five growing seasons if EPA determines that the success criteria set forth in the restoration plan have been satisfied, or, if the success criteria are not satisfied by the fifth year, such additional time period until EPA determines that the success criteria have been satisfied;
  • After completion of the initial restoration, not mow, cut clear, cultivate, dredge, excavate, farm, fill, dewater, drain or otherwise disturb the restoration except with consultation and approval of EPA.

The CD resolves all claims asserted by Gasco in its petition for review of EPA’s administrative compliance order under the APA.  The effect of the settlement is that EPA’s administrative compliance order remains valid under the APA and CWA; however, EPA is precluded from initiating any future enforcement action against Gasco for the underlying violations identified in the order, or for violation of the order itself.

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Health and Environmental Effects

The government alleged that Gasco drilled a production well within the floodplain of the Green River and illegally filled over two acres of wetlands located in an area designated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as critical habitat for several endangered species of fish, specifically the Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail, humpback chub, and razorback sucker.

The critical habitat in the Green River is part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fishing Recovery Program, which is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other federal agencies, the States of Utah, Wyoming and Colorado and other private and public partners working collaboratively to recover the listed fishes. 

The removal of the well and restoration of the wetlands will be crucial to the recovery of those fish species by: (1) improving the quality and quantity of nursery habitat available to larval and juvenile fish; (2) increasing floodplain vegetation which provides allochthonous input into the river; and (3) removing the possibility of exposure by adult, juvenile and larval fish in backwater habitats to crude oil, condensate, ethylene glycol, brine and other production-related chemicals which could accumulate in waters and soils of backwater and other depressional floodplain habitats.

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Civil Penalty

The settlement requires that Gasco pay a civil penalty of $110,000. 

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.  Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.

For more information, contact:

Jim Vinch, Attorney 
Water Enforcement Division
Office of Civil Enforcement
United States Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20460
(202) 564-1256
vinch.james@epa.gov

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