Marathon Oil agrees to record penalty for oil and gas pollution

Marathon Oil will pay a record $64.5 million penalty and invest an estimated $177 million in pollution-cutting measures to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at oil and gas operations in North Dakota, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department announced Thursday.

The penalty is the largest ever for Clean Air Act violations at stationary sources, which include oil refineries, power plants and factories, according to the EPA. It highlights how the Biden administration has sought to ramp up enforcement of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws after four years of looser oversight under President Donald Trump.

“Today’s record Clean Air Act settlement is the most significant to date under EPA’s climate enforcement initiative and makes clear that EPA will hold corporate polluters like Marathon accountable for violations that put communities and our futures at risk,” David Uhlmann, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the settlement “will ensure cleaner air” for communities across North Dakota “while holding Marathon accountable for its illegal pollution.”

Marathon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a complaint, the EPA and the Justice Department had alleged that Marathon violated Clean Air Act requirements at nearly 90 facilities, including those on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota. These violations resulted in thousands of tons of illegal pollution, the agencies said.

In particular, the facilities released illegal amounts of volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide, which are linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses, the agencies said. They also emitted large quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that warms the planet faster than carbon dioxide in the short term.

Under the agreement announced Thursday, Marathon is required to take steps to reduce more than 2.25 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next five years — roughly equivalent to the emissions avoided by taking 487,000 cars off the road for a year, the EPA said in a news release. The settlement will also prevent nearly 110,000 tons of volatile organic compound emissions, according to the agency.

While Marathon ranked as the country’s 22nd-largest oil producer in 2022, it was the seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the oil and gas industry. A large portion of these emissions came from flaring — the practice of intentionally releasing methane into the atmosphere, rather than building equipment to capture it.

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