Marathon Oil agrees to record fine for oil and gas pollution

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

The fine is the largest ever for Clean Air Act violations at stationary sources, including oil refineries, power plants and manufacturing plants, the EPA said. It underscores how the Biden administration has sought to step 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 yet under the EPA’s climate enforcement initiative and makes clear that the EPA will hold polluting companies like Marathon accountable for violations that endanger communities and our future,” David Uhlmann, assistant director 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 provide 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 alleged that Marathon violated Clean Air Act requirements at nearly 90 facilities, including those on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota. Those violations resulted in thousands of tons of illegal pollution, the agencies said.

In particular, the facilities released illegal levels of volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide, which have been linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases, the agencies said. They also emitted large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is warming the planet faster than carbon dioxide in the short term.

Under the agreement announced Thursday, Marathon must take steps to more than 2.25 million metric 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 also prevents nearly 110,000 metric tons of volatile organic compounds, the agency said.

While Marathon was the nation’s 22nd-largest oil producer in 2022, it was the seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the oil and gas industry. Much of those emissions came from flaring, the practice of intentionally releasing methane into the atmosphere rather than building equipment to capture it.

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