The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and XTO Energy Inc. will head to trial after a Pennsylvania district judge’s ruling on criminal charges filed by Kathleen Kane against the energy company.
Last September, Attorney General Kane filed criminal charges against the Exxon Mobil subsidiary after an inspection by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection discovered a discharge of drilling wastewater in Lycoming County.
More than 50,000 gallons of toxic wastewater were illegally discharged from the company’s Marcellus Shale gas well, leading to XTO being charged with five counts of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law and three counts of unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act, according to a press release issued by the Attorney General’s office.
Dan Spadoni, a community relations coordinator for the DEP, said the department first discovered the spill in November 2010 and continues to oversee mandatory ground and surface water monitoring by XTO Energy.
Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Governor John Hanger released a statement earlier this month thanking Kane for filing criminal charges against the company.
Hanger was the Secretary of the DEP at the time of the investigation and referred the case to the Attorney General to investigate whether any criminal activity had occurred.
While leading the DEP, Hanger more than doubled the staff in the department’s Oil and Gas bureau, from 88 employees in September 2008 to 210 in just two years.
Hanger implemented a number of new rules that significantly tightened regulations and authorized and instructed his employees to aggressively inspect and enforce environmental safety regulations, Roger Cohen, political director for Hanger’s campaign, said.
One of these new employees was responsible for discovering that six tanks filled with drilling wastewater had their valves open, spilling contaminants into the environment, Hanger said, calling it an “extraordinary finding.”
Hanger said water pollution is a serious matter that needs to be dealt with properly, and said he hopes this case sends a message to the oil and gas industries.
He said he believes it is essential to send a message to the oil and gas industries after seeing the effects of the recent chemical spill in West Virginia, which has left approximately 300,000 residents without clean drinking water.
If elected governor, Hanger promised to be “the toughest governor in the country on the oil and gas industry.”
In July, XTO Energy settled a case with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice. The settlement requires XTO to pay a penalty of $100,000 and an estimated $20 million on a comprehensive plan to improve wastewater management practices, according to a press release issued by the EPA.
“We continue to believe these charges are unprecedented, baseless and an abuse of prosecutorial discretion,” Suann Lundsberg, a spokeswoman for XTO Energy, said. “There is no evidence XTO or any of its employees intentionally, recklessly or negligently discharged produced water on the site.”
The DEP has not taken an enforcement action pending the results of the criminal charges filed by the attorney general, Spadoni said.