Public Health in the Denver Metro Area Threatened by Illegal, Uncontrolled Air Pollution

Citizen groups to file suit against Kerr-McGee to cut smog-forming pollution from oil and gas drilling


Jeremy Nichols, Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, (303) 454-3370
Sharon Buccino, Natural Resources Defense Council, (909) 373-7840
Nick Persampieri, Earthjustice, (303) 623-9466

Eleven gigantic natural gas compressors that annually emit thousands of tons of air pollution north of Denver have drawn a legal challenge.  Two conservation groups represented by Earthjustice put Kerr-McGee on notice they intend to file a lawsuit aimed at reducing the air pollution.   

Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council took the action to get Kerr-McGee to reduce the approximately 2,200 tons of nitrogen oxides and 400 tons of volatile organic compounds coming from the compressors every year. Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react with sunlight to form smog, which when breathed can harm children’s lungs, cause asthma attacks, and send seniors to the hospital. Last summer, health standards for smog were exceeded 66 times from Denver north to Greeley.

The nitrogen oxides spewed by the eleven engines each year equals the amount released by approximately 115,000 cars driven 12,500 miles a year.  The volatile organic compounds spewed by the 11 engines each year equals the amount released by approximately 10,375 cars each driven 12,500 miles (a car driven 12,500 miles in a year releases 38.2 pounds of nitrogen oxides and 77.1 pounds of volatile organic compounds, see

“Smog is a threat to us all in the Denver metro area, especially our children,” said Jeremy Nichols with Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action. “For our health, Kerr-McGee needs to clean up its engines and clean up its act.”

To protect people from smog in the Denver metro area, the State of Colorado required Kerr-McGee, which is now owned by Anadarko Petroleum, to install air pollution controls on its engines. The engines compress natural gas from wells. Kerr-McGee operates over 3,600 natural gas wells in the area. The engines range in size from 2,166 to 4,670 horsepower. A standard V-8 Dodge pickup has a 235 horsepower engine.

“Oil and gas companies have said they can drill and protect the environment. But they are not,” said Sharon Buccino with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Kerr-McGee needs to follow the rules necessary to protect our health, rather than ignore them.”

Regulations adopted by the State of Colorado in 2004 to comply with federal clean air laws required compressor engines in the Denver area greater than 500 horsepower to install pollution controls in 2005. The regulations were adopted to keep smog in check in the Denver metro area. Nearly two years later, Kerr-McGee has yet to install any controls. In late 2005, the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division issued a Notice of Violation to Kerr-McGee for its engine violations. The violations have yet to be resolved.

Simple pollution controls, similar to catalytic converters found on cars and trucks, could cut volatile organic compound emissions from Kerr-McGee’s engines by 75 percent or more. This would be equivalent to pulling more than 7,750 cars off the road.

“The state has required oil and gas companies to install basic air pollution control equipment to help keep smog in check and leave our children better protected,” said Nick Persampieri with Earthjustice. “It’s unfortunate that Kerr-McGee has failed to comply with the state’s requirements.”

The compressor engines are located at four natural gas compressor stations north of Denver in southern Weld County. 

  • Two engines, each 4,670 horsepower in size, are located at the Frederick Compressor Station near Frederick;

  • Four engines, three 2,166 horsepower and one 1,859 horsepower, are located at the Fort Lupton Compressor Station near Fort Lupton;

  • Four engines, each 3,000 horsepower, are located at the Hudson Compressor Station near Hudson; and

  • One engine, 4,670 horsepower, is located at the Dougan Compressor Station near Fort Lupton.

Between 2005 and 2006, oil and gas drilling increased by 57 percent in Weld County and there are now over 13,000 producing oil and gas wells in the area.

After 60 days, unless the violations are corrected, the groups can file suit against Kerr-McGee in U.S. District Court in Denver.  Once in court, the groups will ask a judge to to require Kerr-McGee to install pollution controls and to require the company to pay civil penalties for its violations. 

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