At a glance
• Denver-based EnCana Oil & Gas sentenced to pay $200,000 in fines for the deaths of about 55 protected birds.
• Deaths of birds included 19 in Colorado’s Piceance Basin, most of which were at EnCana facilities in Rio Blanco County.
• Deaths resulted from birds landing in open wastewater ponds and becoming coated in, or ingesting fatal production operation discharges.
• EnCana ordered to implement an environmental compliance plan designed to keep birds from coming in contact with the wastewater.
• None of the birds killed in the case were listed as endangered or threatened under federal law.
EnCana Oil & Gas Inc., a company based in Denver, pleaded guilty and was sentenced Aug. 26 for two misdemeanor violations regarding the deaths of about 55 federally protected migratory birds in Colorado and Wyoming.
The company was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Denver for violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the deaths of the birds, including waterfowl and owls, in natural gas well reserve pits and wastewater storage facilities, according to a news release.
The court sentenced the company to pay a total of $200,000 in fines and community service payments for the violations, which occurred in the past four years, after reaching a plea agreement, according to the release.
The violations occurred at facilities in Colorado’s Piceance Basin, located south of Moffat County, and the Sweetwater, Sublette and Lincoln Counties of Wyoming.
According to the release, migratory birds often land on open wastewater ponds at oil and gas facilities and can become coated with or ingest fatal amounts of hydrocarbon discharge as a result of production operations.
Oil and gas companies can prevent such bird deaths, according to the release, by placing obstructions or netting over the water to prevent contact with the wastewater.
As part of the plea agreement, EnCana must implement an environmental compliance plan designed to keep birds from coming in contact with the wastewater in the two states. According to the release, EnCana has already spent $3 million to start the plan.
The fines EnCana must pay as part of the agreement will go to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
According to the plea agreement, EnCana “failed to heed warnings” during initial investigations from federal agencies in 2005 and 2006 about the uncovered pits in the Piceance Basin.
About 19 migratory birds, such as ducks and owls, were found to have died as a result of the wastewater in the Piceance Basin, many of which were located at facilities in Rio Blanco County, according to the release.
“The United States is bound by several treaties to protect migratory birds, many of which cross international borders and are a resource we share with other counties,” said U.S. District Attorney John Walsh in the release. “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act provides only criminal sanctions for unlawfully taking such birds, and we treat corporate violations of this statute as serious offenses.”
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in 1918 and creates a misdemeanor criminal sanction for the un-permitted taking of listed birds by any means. None of the birds killed in the case were listed as endangered or threatened under federal law, according to the release.
“Environmental compliance plans, like the one in this case, help reduce the needless killing of protected birds in the future,” said Steve Oberholtzer, Special Agent in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, region six, in the release. “Our agency will continue to investigate these killings and refer appropriate cases for prosecution.”
The cases were investigated by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and were prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Colorado.