LAFAYETTE — A federal magistrate judge on Tuesday gave Apollo Energy 60 days to develop or implement an existing remediation plan to clean up spills stemming from the company’s drilling operations in the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge.
The company pleaded guilty in March to two misdemeanor counts of violation of a wildlife refuge special use permit stemming from spills that were first detected in April 2010. The company has been operating in the Happytown field within the St. Martin Parish refuge since February 2005.
During the company’s sentencing Tuesday, attorney Francis Lobrano, one of three principal owners of Apollo Energy, admitted to U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna that no cleanup work has been performed since a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer first found two brine spills on April 21, 2010.
Subsequent inspections revealed other violations, including additional spills, brush clearing that was performed without permission, and a rig that was operating without authorization and permission from the refuge, according to the company’s plea filings.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a bill of information charging the company with four violations in September.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Myers P. Namie told Hanna that the government’s first concern is to have the site cleaned up.
“Once the remediation is done, the fine is a reminder,” Namie said, adding that the company needs to know the consequences of not taking care of its business. “The government believes the fine is important.”
Hanna ordered the company to pay $25,000 to The Nature Conservancy and fined the company $65,000.
Hanna, noting the company’s current financial struggles, deferred both payments until the remediation plan is complete, “because these remediation plans can easily reach into the millions of dollars.”
Hanna criticized the company for not reporting the spills and for failing to clean them up after they were discovered.
“I want it cleaned up,” Hanna said.
Hanna gave the company 60 days to either implement the remediation plan already proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or to bring a contractor onto the site to develop an alternative plan.
“I don’t want to go through another rainy season with this stuff on the ground,” Hanna said.