Feds announce proposed settlement with North Slope Borough

NSB faces $6.5 million civil fine, must hire third-party auditor to ensure compliance

A proposed settlement announcement on Wednesday, March 16, by the Environmental Protection Agency will require the North Slope Borough to make infrastructure investments to comply with solid and hazardous waste management rules and oil spill prevention rules.

The borough will be required to hire an independent third-party auditor to ensure that the third-party auditor to ensure that the compliance requirements in the settlement are successfully implemented and pay a civil penalty of $6.5 million.

The EPA said that a multi-year environmental investigation of the borough uncovered violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which regulates solid and hazardous waste, and the Clean Water Act (CWA), at numerous facilities owned and operated by the borough in Utqiagvik, Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay. Many of the violations resulted from the borough’s failure to properly manage and store thousands of drums of oil and hazardous waste in these communities, some of which led to oil spills.

“This settlement will help protect the health of the communities and the sensitive ecosystems in the North Slope Borough,“ said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The alleged RCRA violations include the borough’s unpermitted storage of hazardous waste; failure to identify and characterize hazardous waste; unauthorized transport of hazardous waste; shipment of hazardous waste without proper manifesting and land disposal restriction notices; non-compliant management of universal wastes; and failure to properly label used oil containers. Numerous drums of solid and hazardous waste were improperly stored outdoors, accessible to Borough residents and exposed to the environment. Some drums contained corrosive, ignitable, or toxic waste and were not properly labeled as hazardous.

The EPA also said that the Borough failed to safely store and manage oil in accordance with the CWA’s Oil Pollution Prevention regulations, intended to prevent oil spills, at 70 of its facilities. The violations contributed to at least two oil spills into wetlands near the Kasegaluk Lagoon, Kaktovik Lagoon, and Pipsuk Bight. Oil spills in this sensitive arctic tundra habitat can harm fish and other wildlife, as well as downstream waters which are important to Native Alaskans, including for subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering.

The borough has agreed to close all unpermitted hazardous waste storage facilities; develop a comprehensive waste management plan to minimize generation of and ensure proper tracking and management of solid and  hazardous waste; build or retrofit a permitted hazardous waste storage facility; revise its CWA Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Plan; install adequate secondary containment around oil storage containers; and develop an integrity testing program for oil storage containers that complies with applicable industry standards.

In addition, borough officials have agreed to identify a full-time environmental official and will hire an independent third-party auditor to ensure that the compliance requirements in the consent decree are successfully implemented.