Despite the reduction in enforcement resources at today’s EPA, serious misconduct is still being investigated and prosecuted by DOJ and EPA. The recent Clean Air Act conviction of a senior executive at a Montana energy company demonstrates EPA’s criminal program will continue to focus attention on catastrophic incidents and the underlying conduct that may contribute to these events.
Thursday, October 3, 2019
Ex-manager of Wibaux oil processing plant that exploded sentenced for Clean Air Act Violations
BILLINGS—The former project manager of an oil processing plant that exploded in Wibaux in 2012, injuring three employees and extensively damaging the facility, was sentenced today to two years of probation and fined $5,000, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
Mark Hurst, 44, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, pleaded guilty on Feb. 27 to Clean Air Act-negligent endangerment.
On Sept. 27, a jury in Billings convicted co-defendant Peter Margiotta, 62, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, of all three counts related to the plant explosion. The jury found Margiotta guilty of conspiracy, Clean Air Act-general duty and Clean Air Act-knowing endangerment. Margiotta was president and director of Custom Carbon Processing, Inc., a Wyoming company that constructed the Michels Disposal Well and Oil Processing facility in Wibaux in 2012. Hurst testified against Margiotta at trial.
“As project manager, the defendant was aware of the danger to the employees and the public at the facility, notified management, and yet the plant continued to operate. Today’s sentence holds the defendant accountable for his actions. Compliance with environmental regulations is required and violators will be prosecuted,” U.S. Attorney Alme said. “I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Dake, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric E. Nelson, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General for their work in prosecuting and investigating this case.”
“We believe today’s sentencing sends a strong message to those responsible for properly handling hazardous material,” said Jeffrey Dubsick, Regional Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. “Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, we will continue our vigorous efforts to protect against those who would risk the safety of the public and the environment for personal gain.”
“By knowingly operating an oil processing facility without appropriate safeguards, the defendant endangered workers and the public,” said Jeff Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program. “Today’s sentencing reflects the egregious nature of the defendant’s actions.”
At Margiotta’s trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Custom Carbon constructed the plant in ways that allowed hydrocarbon vapors, extremely hazardous substances and hazardous air pollutants to be released into the air. The plant opened on July 4, 2012 before appropriate electrical wiring, ventilation and other safety measures were installed.
The prosecution in court documents presented evidence that Hurst, who was the project manager, was aware of the ventilation and electrical problems. In a July 4, 2012 email from Hurst to Margiotta, Hurst noted the risks posed at the plant because of its design and construction. Referring to the electrical panels, Hurst wrote, “We also run the risk of killing someone, not only our operators but also customers.”
In a November 2012 email Hurst sent to Custom Carbon management, he again noted “outstanding deficiencies” at the Wibaux plant, including issues with venting, and wrote, “I wanted all things venting into the building to be vented out the building.” Hurst continued to work at the plant as its project manager and the plant remained open.
On Dec. 29, 2012, the plant accepted a delivery of highly volatile and flammable natural gas condensate or “drip gas.” During the offloading of the material at the plant, hazardous and flammable vapors from the natural gas condensate filled the plant building and spread out the open bay doors where the truck delivering the condensate was located. The vapors reached an ignition source, causing an explosion that injured three employees and extensive damage to the plant, the truck and trailer involved in the delivery.
AUSA Bryan Dake and SAUSA Eric Nelson prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.