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Thursday, July 18, 2013

ExxonMobil unit settles fracking pollution case with EPA

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 3:55 PM

The subject is ExxonMobil, actually a subsidiary, XTO. The subject is also fracking. That's three-for-three in terms of subjects that also are relevant in Arkansas.

The news is from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The ExxonMobil subsidiary has settled a pollution complaint from the federal Environmental Protection Agency over handling of wastewater from fracking operations there. Pollutants were found in a river tributary. The ExxonMobil subsidiary will have to spend $20 million to prevent spills and properly dispose of waste the gas exploration process.

The full EPA release is on the jump.

I asked the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality whether the water protection steps outlined in the agreement suggested whether oversight in Arkansas is adequate for handling of wastewater. In short: Lots of regulations are in place. But you can read the full answer on the jump, too.

EPA NEWS RELEASE

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corporation, to resolve an alleged violation
of the Clean Water Act (CWA) related to the discharge of wastewater from XTO’s Penn Township, Lycoming County, Pa. facility used for the storage of wastewater generated by natural gas exploration, commonly known as fracking, and production.

The federal settlement requires that XTO pay a penalty of $100,000 to the United States and spend a federal government-estimated $20 million on a comprehensive plan to improve wastewater management practices to recycle, properly dispose of, and prevent spills of wastewater generated from natural gas exploration and production activities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Among other things, XTO must install a continuous, remote monitoring system for all of its permanent production located throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia with alarms that will be triggered to alert operators immediately in the event of any future spills and implement a program to actively monitor interconnected wastewater storage tanks located throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The discharge was discovered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) during an inspection of the Penn Township facility, where a PADEP inspector observed wastewater spilling from an open valve from a series of interconnected tanks. At the time, XTO stored wastewater generated from energy extraction
activities conducted throughout Pennsylvania at its Penn Township facility and, at the time of the release, stored produced fluid from its operations in the area.

Pollutants from the release were found in a tributary of the Susquehanna River basin. EPA, in consultation with PADEP, conducted an investigation and determined that wastewater stored in the tanks at the Penn Township facility contained the same variety of pollutants, including chlorides, barium, strontium, and total dissolved solids, that were observed in those surface waters.

“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. “The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that our natural resources are developed in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Under the settlement with the United States, the substantial improvements to XTO’s wastewater management are estimated by the federal government to reduce discharges of total dissolved solids by 264 million pounds over the course of the next three years. These reductions will occur in large part because XTO will increase wastewater recycling and will properly dispose of wastewaters generated by its natural gas activities across the mid-Atlantic region. In addition XTO will implement a region-wide program of operational best management practices which include: secondary containment for tanks used to store wastewater, improved standard operating procedures designed to reduce the risk of a spill, a prohibition on using pits or open-top tanks to store wastewater which
will prevent air emissions, remote monitoring of tank volumes to prevent overfilling and spills, and proper signage on all tanks with safety information and a manned, 24-hour emergency phone number.

“The operational improvements required by today’s settlement will help to protect precious surface and drinking water resources in Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA continues to push for responsible development of
domestic sources of energy and to insist that companies play by the rules that protect public health.”

“This consent decree establishes a program of best practices that should be a model for the industry and, if followed, will give a level of assurance to the people of the Commonwealth that their waters will be protected. This settlement is in the long-term best interest of the taxpayers, the industry, and our children,” stated Peter J. Smith, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Untreated discharges of wastewaters from natural gas exploration and production activities typically contain high levels of total dissolved solids and other pollutants and can adversely impact fresh water aquatic life and drinking water quality.

The consent decree, lodged in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval. The consent decree is available for review at
www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html

More information about the settlement:
http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/xto-energy-inc-settlement

More information about EPA Region III’s activities related to natural
gas extraction: http://www.epa.gov/region3/marcellus_shale/

STATEMENT FROM ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY IN RESPONSE TO MY QUESTION

We haven't had time to review the Pennsylvania case, so we can't offer a comment on that at this point.

ADEQ and the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission each regulate various aspects of natural gas exploration in the state. For instance, our inspectors and AOGC inspectors are authorized to inspect the sites and if violations are found, ensure clean up and take any enforcement action warranted.

We encourage appropriate recycling of wastewater. Wastewater which can't be recycled must be disposed of properly and that often means in an authorized UIC well. Those wells are regulated by the Oil and Gas Commission and that agency can give you more information on that aspect of the process.

We also require secondary containment around wastewater tanks. Although we do allow storage in pits, they must follow permit guidelines that were developed to ensure safety.

You might want to take a look at our Regulation 34 at this link http://www.adeq.state.ar.us/regs/default.htm and at Oil and Gas' Regulation B17 http://www.aogc.state.ar.us/OnlineData/Forms/Rules%20and%20Regulations.pdf. Each of those will give you more detail on the regulations required at fracking sites in the state.

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