A preliminary hearing in Williamsport yesterday marked the beginning of the Pennsylvania’s first criminal case involving a Marcellus Shale driller.
In July, the federal Environmental Protection Agency fined XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, for a 2010 spill which involved discharging 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.
In September, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane filed criminal charges against XTO.
Environmental groups have lauded Kane for going after a high-profile target to set an example for an industry they think has run rampant.
XTO says the spill was an accident committed by a contractor and criminal charges are baseless. It says it paid $1.3 million to clean up the site and negotiated a $100,000 federal civil settlement, including an agreement to upgrade its wastewater handling procedures at a cost of about $20 million.
A key aspect of the case is that it remains a mystery who pulled the plug on the tank containing fracking water.
“Who caused the spill?” asked Thomas J. Kelly Jr., a Washington lawyer on XTO’s team.
“I don’t know, sir,” said [former DEP inspector Jeremy] Daniel, who left DEP in August to work for a natural gas pipeline company.
Although XTO is not one of the top ten drillers in the state, it is one of the top ten violators.