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An oil executive pleaded not guilty Monday at the Stark County, ND, Courthouse to a felony charge that he threatened area drinking water with his company’s hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” wastewater disposal practices.

Earlier this year, the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office charged Nathan Garber with a Class C felony, arguing a company led by Garber knowingly attempted to deceive Industrial Commission inspectors.

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Following the brief hearing before Stark County Judge H. Patrick Weir, neither Garber nor his attorney, Monte Rogneby of the Bismarck-based Vogel Law Firm, wished to make a comment. A Stark County official said a date for a pretrial conference would be set later.

In a case that represents the first of its kind brought against an oil executive in North Dakota, the state is claiming Garber, president of Executive Drilling LLC at the time of the drilling, directed employees of another company to modify their fracking wastewater disposal practices, which officials watch closely because of environmental concerns.

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Garber directed the injection of salt water used in the fracking process — a drilling practice commonly used by energy companies to retrieve deep shale oil and gas reserves — into a well that not properly insulated from groundwater near the Lodgepole formation in Stark County, according to court documents.

It remains unknown at this time if drinking water ended up contaminated. Also, officials would not release any findings related to groundwater testing until a trial, according to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources. A civil suit related to the case was also filed in Burleigh County against Halek Operating LLC, which is related to Executive Drilling.

A Class C felony in North Dakota carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.

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