Charges filed against ExxonMobil subsidiary over wastewater spill

11 September 2013 19:13  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--A subsidiary of ExxonMobil has been accused of dumping more than 50,000 gal of toxic fracking wastewater at a Marcellus shale gas well site.

The state of Pennsylvania has charged XTO Energy with five counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law and three counts of unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act, according to documents obtained on Wednesday.

In saying it would challenge the allegations, XTO said the charges are “unwarranted and legally baseless” as well as “an abuse of prosecutorial discretion”.

According to state attorney general Kathleen Kane’s office, a grand jury found that XTO hired a company to recycle wastewater at its Marquardt well site from 4-11 November 2010. The site stored the water, which contained toxic substances such as chlorides, barium, strontium and aluminium, in 21,000 gal storage tanks while it awaited processing, the grand jury said.

After that period, XTO directed the company to remove its processing equipment from the site and transport it to another XTO well site in West Virginia.

However, the grand jury alleged that XTO continued to transport and store gas well wastewater at the Marquardt site despite not having the proper equipment on site to safely store or process it. 

A state environment inspector discovered the illegal discharge of gas well wastewater on 16 November 2010 during an unannounced visit to the Marquardt site, Kane’s office said.

According to the grand jury, the inspector found that a rear discharge valve on a storage tank had been opened and a drain plug had been removed, causing wastewater to flow out of the tank onto the ground. There also was evidence of prior wastewater discharges from other storage tanks, the grand jury said. 

According to the grand jury, more than 93,000 gallons of wastewater was transported to and stored at the Marquardt site from 12-16 November 2010, of which about 57,000 gal was unaccounted for following the spill.

The wastewater flowed into and polluted an unnamed tributary of Sugar Run, Kane’s office said. As a result, the state required more than 3,000 tons of contaminated soil to be excavated and removed from the Marquardt site.

XTO did not have a permit to discharge wastewater at the Marquardt site, the grand jury said, and the company failed to report any wastewater spills to the state as required by law.

XTO said that neither it nor its employees “intentionally, recklessly or negligently discharged produced water on the site”.

“XTO acted quickly and cooperatively with state and federal authorities to clean up the produced water,” the company said in a news release. “There was no lasting environmental impact and the site has been fully remediated in accordance with guidance of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.”

The company said the charges by the state “could discourage good environmental practices, such as recycling. The action tells oil and gas operators that setting up infrastructure to recycle produced water exposes them to the risk of significant legal and financial penalties should a small release occur”.

XTO reached a settlement in July with the US Environmental Protection Agency over the spill.


By: Jeremy Pafford
+1 713 525 2653



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