Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

EPA Fines XTO Energy for Lycoming County Frack Water Spills

A natural gas drill rig in Springville.

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A natural gas drill rig in Springville, PA.

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, $100,000 for violating the federal Clean Water Act. The company’s drilling operations discharged between 6,300 and 57,373 gallons of waste water into the Susquehanna river system in Penn Township, Lycoming County. The waste water contained high levels of strontium, chloride, bromide, barium, and total dissolved solids and flowed continually for more than two months in the fall of 2010, according to the EPA.

An employee with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection discovered an open valve at a waste water storage tank during an inspection. The settlement, announced on Wednesday, also requires XTO to spend an estimated $20 million to improve its waste water disposal process.

“Today’s settlement holds XTO accountable for a previous violation of the Clean Water Act and requires operational changes and improved management practices to help ensure the safe and responsible handling of wastewater produced during natural gas exploration and production activities,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a release. “The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that our natural resources are developed in an environmentally responsible manner.”

As part of the settlement, XTO will now be required to recycle at least 50 percent of its wastewater, meaning that water will be used to frack other wells. Waste water pits or open tanks are prohibited, the company must install remote monitoring systems and establish a 24-hour emergency phone number.

Although XTO is not one of the top ten drillers in the state, it is one of the top ten violators, with nearly one violation per well. The most recent data available shows the company with 212 active wells, and a staggering 179 violations incurred by just 25 wells. The top offender is the Marquardt 8537H well, in Penn Township, which seems to be the site of this discharge.

Penn Township, Lycoming County, which covers about 26 square miles and is home to about 1000 people, has endured one of the highest numbers of drilling violations than any other municipality in the state. With 109 active wells, environmental regulators have issued 165 violations by both XTO Energy and EXCO Resources.

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