MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

November 22, 2013

Oklahoma company to pay fine in oil spill

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — An Oklahoma company on Friday agreed to pay a $1 million penalty for allowing thousands of gallons of oil to flow into a creek south of Rawlins in 2011.

Thomas Sansonetti, a lawyer for the company Nadel and Gussman Rockies, entered a guilty plea for the company before U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson in Cheyenne.

Johnson accepted the company’s plea for the misdemeanor violation of the federal Clean Water Act conditionally, pending his review of a report. He set sentencing for January.

Federal prosecutor Bob Murray told Johnson more than 4,700 gallons of oil spilled into Emigrant Creek after a contract pumper working for the company left a tank valve open overnight in late April 2011.

Murray said the pumper had opened the valve to drain production water from the tank. Murray said the oil also drained out after all the underlying water in the tank was gone.

Murray said Hugo Cartaya, then a production manager for Nadal and Gussman, had approved of disposing of the production water, which had some contaminants in it, by draining it from the tank into the nearby creek bed.

Murray said the snow was too deep for a tanker truck to get to the site to haul the water away so dumping the water provided a way to continue oil production at the site.

After the pumper discovered the oil spill, Murray said Cartaya told him not to report it to the company or to regulators. Authorities learned of the spill later after a person passing by smelled oil and saw it flowing under a nearby road in the streambed.

Both the pumper and Cartaya denied knowledge of the spill when approached by federal investigators, Murray said. He said the pumper later said he caused the spill.

Murray said the pumper has entered into a diversion program and is cooperating with federal officials.

A federal indictment filed in September charges Cartaya with eight felony counts, including discharge of oil into the waters of the United States and making false statements. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial in February.

Michael David Lindsey, Cartaya’s attorney, said he expects his client to be exonerated.

Sansonetti said officials with Nadel and Gussman moved to address the spill as soon as they heard about it. “They jumped right on it,” he said, adding that the company’s cleanup costs reached into the six figures.

Sansonetti said the company is a family-run business that operates around the Rockies.

Murray said the company’s $1 million penalty will include the following:

• $357,500 as a fine for violating the Clean Water Act.

• $200,000 to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a federal fund that covers oil spill cleanup costs.

• $230,000 to the Carbon County Commission. The county will use about $80,000 of that amount to buy equipment and supplies for responding to oil spills. Three conservation districts in the county will each get $50,000 for natural resource improvement projects. They are the Little Snake River; Saratoga-Encampment-Rawlins; and Medicine Bow conservation districts.

• $106,000 to the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

• $106,000 to the Grand Teton Park Foundation. Both park foundations will use the money to preserve natural resources.

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