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DENVER — Every year the FOX31 Problem Solvers research the biggest fines issued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Through an open records request, the largest fine went to Noble Energy in 2018.

According to the COGCC, Noble Energy failed to conduct “Mechanical Integrity Tests” on eight different sites around Weld County. The violations last in some cases hundreds of days. The total fine was $1.6 million.

“Mechanical Integrity Tests” have been the focus of COGCC and many other state programs for years. COGCC officials say this is “important as it prevents gas migration from oil and gas bearing zones to potential aquifers.”

Coloradans though are mixed on whether or not the COGCC fined too much or too little.

“I’m the property owner and I am not concerned they didn’t do the proper testing,” Steve, a farmer who owns the land in which one of the wells sits, said.

Steve — who would not give his last name — says fines are too high and that it hurts energy development near his home.

“I think $16,000 would have been an adequate fine,” Steve said.

Others disagree.

“The COGCC is letting them get away with it,” Monica Korber, a concerned environmentalist, said.

Korber is frustrated Noble Energy has until 2021 to pay the fine in full. They also have options in how they pay it. For instance, they could participate in studies by the Colorado School of Mines.

“If they are going to impose a fine it needs to be more immediate — it can’t be over three years — it needs to be like a bill you get in the mail,” Korber said.

“The $1.6 million that they were issued in fines isn’t enough,” Korber added.

The COGCC, in a departure from previous years, declined an interview request.

Noble Energy also declined an interview but sent this statement:

“Noble Energy actively monitors and conducts its operations to avoid impacts on health, safety and the environment.  In May 2017, we self-disclosed to COGCC non-compliance with Mechanical Integrity Testing requirements for certain wells.  At the time, the wells were ‘shut-in’ — meaning that they were not producing oil and natural gas.

Following our self-disclosure, COGCC staff issued Notices of Alleged Violations relating to Mechanical Integrity Testing at eight Noble wells. We have plugged and removed seven of these wells and are actively working on the eighth.

In September 2018 Noble Energy received approval from COGCC of an Administrative Order by Consent to pay $1.6 million related to those wells—a $200,000 payment and approximately $1.4 million on projects for Colorado, including plugging and removing orphan wells that were owned, operated and abandoned by others.

Noble Energy is committed to safe and responsible energy development.”