For years, Navajos in oil-rich southeastern Utah have complained about the pollution generated by oil companies there.
Now, U.S. prosecutors have joined the chorus of complaints, accusing Houston-based Texaco of violating the Water Pollution Control Act by repeatedly allowing oil and contaminated water to leak into the San Juan River on the Navajo Indian Reservation.The civil complaint, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, not only claims Texaco allowed oil and contaminated water to spill on 88 different occasions, but that the company did not comply with environmental laws regarding cleanup plans and that it did not notify environmental regulators of certain spills.
According to the complaint, "on numerous occasions . . . the defendant Texaco discharged oil and produced water into the navigable waters of the United States and adjoining shorelines" and that "defendant Texaco's pipelines and onshore facilities ruptured, leaked and/or overflowed into the waters of the United States and adjoining shorelines."
Texaco operates 210 production wells, 175 injection wells, five production batters, seven production headers and a high-pressure water injection system, all in the Aneth oil field near the San Juan River.
The complaint states that federal regulators inspected a Texaco facility on March 5, 1997, and found numerous violations, including the use of an earthen containment for an unleaded gasoline tank, concrete containment for three small tanks not designed to contain the contents in the event of a leak, lack of warnings to vehicular traffic, failure to properly inspect and clean accumulations of oil in traps or sumps, a lack of secondary containment for some tanks, various equipment breakdowns and the lack of a schedule for certain inspections and repairs.
The complaint documents spills of oil and water beginning Dec. 12, 1991, and continuing uninterrupted through Jan. 24, 1998. Most of the spills involved water, called "produced water," used in the oil-pumping process.
The complaint also mentions that on May 11, 1995, some 100 barrels of oil and "produced water" were spilled and that the spill was not reported to the Environmental Protection Agency within the 60 days required by law.
The government is seeking fines of $25,000 per day for each violation that occurred before Jan. 30, 1997, and $27,500 per day for each violation after that time. The complaint seeks identical damages from Texaco for failing to have a cleanup plan, called a Spill Prevention Control Countermeasure, in place and for failing to notify the EPA of certain spills.
In all, some 85 barrels, or 3,570 gallons, of oil were spilled. A barrel contains 42 gallons of crude oil which, when processed, produces about 19.5 gallons of gasoline.
The spills alone could amount to almost $2.3 million in fines for Texaco.