A Houston-based oilfield services company Tuesday pleaded guilty to a violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in connection with the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of a natural gas well in Oklahoma, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In entering the plea, which is subject to the approval of the federal court in Muskogee, OK, Integrated Production Services LLC (IPS) has agreed to pay a $140,000 criminal fine and make a community service payment of $22,000 to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for ecological studies and remediations of Boggy Creek in eastern Oklahoma.

IPS also will serve a two-year period of probation during which it will be required to implement and perform an environmental compliance program at a cost of $38,000 to train IPS employees about proper hazardous waster handling and spill response procedure.

The CWA violation occurred in May 2007 when the company was fracking a well in Atoka County, OK, which entailed the use of drills and hydrochloric acid to penetrate through bedrock and substrata in order to access the natural gas reserves. A tank at the site subsequently leaked hydrochloric acid onto the bermed surface of the well, which also was flooded due to recent heavy rainfall, the DOJ said.

Rather than properly removing the rainwater from the site, Gabriel Henson, an IPS supervisor, drove a company pickup truck through the earthen berm, causing the discharge of the rainwater and an estimated 400-700 gallons of hydrochloric acid into a tributary of Boggy Creek, the department noted.

In July of this year Henson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the CWA. He is awaiting sentencing and faces up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, the DOJ said.

"Hydrochloric acid is a highly corrosive substance. Its release into a tributary of Boggy Creek was a serious threat to the environment," said Ivan Vikin, special agent-in-charge of the Environmental Protection Agency's criminal enforcement program in Oklahoma.

"This was a case of a corporate employee making a careless decision that caused the release of dangerous hydrochloric acid into our waters. Whether to expedite oil production or to save corporate expense, these types of actions cannot be justified nor can they be tolerated," said Mark Green, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.

"As hydraulic fracturing occurs with increasing frequency across the country, companies and individuals involved in those operations must adhere to the laws and protect human health and environment...We recognize the critical importance of developing domestic sources of energy responsibly, and will continue to vigorously prosecute illegal conduct," said Ignacia S. Moreno, attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

IPS serves major production basins in Western Canada, the Rocky Mountains, Midcontinent, South Texas and Gulf of Mexico.