Energy company to pay fine for polluting Uintah County wetlands

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6 2014 10:25 a.m. MST

This file photo shows the Green River weaving a path near the Utah-Colorado border. Gasco Energy has agreed to cap a natural gas well after the company contaminated wetlands in Uintah County. The Denver-based energy firm will also clean up the site and pay a fine, according to the EPA.

Ray Boren, Deseret News archives

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OURAY, Uintah County — An energy company has agreed to permanently shut down a natural gas well in Uintah County that contaminated wetlands near the Green River, according to federal regulators.

Gasco Energy will also remediate the damage done to more than two acres of wetlands and pay a $110,000 civil penalty to address its violations of the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in a statement.

“Serious environmental and public health consequences can result from illegally filling wetlands,” EPA Region 8 administrator Shaun McGrath said in the statement.

“This settlement validates EPA’s original administrative order and achieves the agency’s goal of correcting Clean Water Act violations to protect wetlands that provide aquatic and wildlife habitat and support endangered species," McGrath added.

Federal regulators tried to resolve the case with Denver-based Gasco through a 2011 administrative enforcement order that would have required the company to submit a plan to restore the wetlands. Gasco, however, challenged the order, leading the EPA to file counterclaims that sought a civil penalty and full restoration of the wetlands.

"EPA is committed to defending its administrative orders when challenged," McGrath said.

In 2007, Gasco drilled a natural gas well in a Green River floodplain near Ouray, Uintah County, and contaminated more than two acres of wetlands with "dredged or fill material," according court records. The wetlands are in an area the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated as critical habitat for several endangered fish species that biologists are working to restore.

Under the proposed consent decree announced this week, Gasco has agreed to plug and permanently close the problem well. The company will also remove the well pad and access roads, replant vegetation, and take other measures to restore the damaged areas.

The public is invited to comment on the proposed consent decree, which is pending before a federal judge in Denver, for the next 30 days. A copy of the document is available on the Justice Department's website.

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