ExxonMobil Corp. subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. will pay a $100,000 penalty and spend an estimated $20 million on a plan to improve wastewater management practices following a settlement with federal authorities to resolve an alleged violation of the Clean Water Act related to the discharge of hydraulic fracturing wastewater at a Lycoming County, PA, facility.

The settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice requires XTO to improve its wastewater management practices to recycle, properly dispose of and prevent spills of wastewater generated from natural gas exploration and production in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, EPA said.

“Among other things, XTO must install a continuous, remote monitoring system for all of its permanent production located throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia with alarms that will be triggered to alert operators immediately in the event of any future spills and implement a program to actively monitor interconnected wastewater storage tanks located throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” EPA said.

XTO is bound to increase wastewater recycling and to properly dispose of wastewater generated by its natural gas activities across the mid-Atlantic region, the agency said. In addition, XTO is to implement a region-wide program of operational best management practices that include secondary containment for tanks used to store wastewater, improved standard operating procedures designed to reduce the risk of a spill, a prohibition on using pits or open-top tanks to store wastewater which will prevent air emissions, remote monitoring of tank volumes to prevent overfilling and spills, and proper signage on all tanks with safety information and a manned, 24-hour emergency phone number.

“This consent decree establishes a program of best practices that should be a model for the industry and, if followed, will give a level of assurance to the people of the commonwealth that their waters will be protected,” said Peter J. Smith, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

According to the federal agencies, XTO released between 150 barrels (6,300 gallons) to 1,366 barrels (57,373 gallons) of flowback and produced water from its Penn Township wastewater storage facility for about 65 days in late 2010, which allowed pollutants to flow into a tributary of the Susquehanna River (see Shale Daily, Nov. 29, 2010).

“Elevated levels of pollutants indicative of a spill of flowback and produced fluid, such as strontium, chloride, bromide, barium and total dissolved solids, were present in both a surface stream (i.e., tributary of the Susquehanna River) and subsurface spring (i.e., hydraulic connection to the tributary),” EPA said.

The discharge was discovered by a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection inspector when he observed wastewater spilling from an open valve from a series of interconnected tanks.