A consent decree was approved Wednesday for XTO Energy Inc. to pay a $100,000 fine for discharging 50,000 gallons of toxic wastewater illegally in 2010 at a Marcellus Shale well site in Pennsylvania.
U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann’s approval will require the ExxonMobil Corp. exploration unit to pay the civil penalty to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the incident in Penn Township near Hughesville. The discharge flowed into a subsurface spring and tributary of the Susquehanna River’s west branch.
The consent decree anticipates that XTO will spend as much as $10 million to implement preventive measures and install appropriate recycling and disposal measures from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and well completion activities. XTO is required under the decree to recycle at least 50% of its drilling fluids from permitted well operations in Pennsylvania. It also has to adhere to specific rules for its tank operations.
The agreement covers all of XTO’s operations within U.S. EPA Region 3, comprised of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
The consent decree only ends only one chapter of the story. XTO faces a much bigger legal challenge after the Pennsylvania attorney general earlier this month filed criminal charges against the company for the same incident (see Shale Daily, Sept. 12). A preliminary hearing is tentatively set for Nov. 5 for XTO to respond to five counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law and three counts of unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act.
An inspector from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in November 2010 discovered an open valve on one of 57 tanks at the XTO site, with its contents flowing to the ground. The 21,000-gallon tank was connected to five other tanks at the site.
The Fort Worth, TX-based producer did not admit any liability or wrongdoing in the consent decree. The company said it plans to fight the criminal charges, which it called “an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”
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