Exxon Mobil Corp. is facing charges of illegally dumping more than 50,000 gallons (189,000 liters) of wastewater at a shale-gas drilling site in Pennsylvania.
Exxon unit XTO Energy Inc. discharged the water from waste tanks at the Marquandt well site in Lycoming County in 2010, according to a statement on the website of Pennsylvania’s attorney general. Investigators found the pollution during an unannounced visit by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The inspectors discovered a plug removed from a tank, allowing the wastewater to run onto the ground, polluting a nearby stream. Officials ordered XTO to remove 3,000 tons of soil to clean up the area. Wastewater discharged from natural-gas wells can contain chlorides, barium, strontium and aluminum, the attorney general’s statement showed.
“Criminal charges are unwarranted and legally baseless,” the XTO unit said in a statement posted on its website. “There was no intentional, reckless or negligent misconduct by XTO.”
Pennsylvania has become one of the biggest gas-producing states in the past five years as explorers drill the Marcellus shale, a rock formation stretching across the northeast U.S. that holds 24 percent of the nation’s shale gas reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration. Exxon purchased XTO in 2009 for $34.9 billion.
XTO faces five counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law and three counts under the Solid Waste Management Act.
“Charging XTO under these circumstances could discourage good environmental practices,” the company said. “This 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.”
The company said it “acted quickly” to clean up the spill and there was “no lasting environmental impact,” according to the statement.
XTO said it agreed to pay “reasonable civil penalties” in a July 18, 2013 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice. It also agreed to recycle at least half its drilling wastewater, according to the agreement.