XTO settles federal water pollution charges in Pennsylvania

ExxonMobil Corp. subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and to spend $20 million to improve wastewater management practices in Pennsylvania and West Virginia natural gas operations.

The agreement came in a settlement of federal water pollution charges, the US Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly announced.

A consent decree, filed in federal court for Pennsylvania’s Middle District, is subject to a 30-day comment period and court approval.

The charges stemmed from a discharge discovered by a Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection (PADEP) inspector’s visit to XTO’s Penn Township plant, where he observed wastewater spilling from an open valve from a series of interconnected tanks.

At the time, XTO stored wastewater from oil and gas activities throughout Pennsylvania at its Penn Township facility, DOJ and EPA said.

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

Among other actions, XTO must install a continuous, remote-monitoring system for all of its permanent production throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The system will have alarms that will trigger to alert operators immediately in case of any future spills. XTO will implement actively monitor interconnected wastewater storage tanks throughout both states, DOJ and EPA said.

XTO’s wastewater management improvements will reduce discharges of total dissolved solids by an estimated 264 million lb over the next 3 years, largely because the gas producer will increase wastewater recycling and will properly dispose of wastewater generated by its gas activities across the Mid-Atlantic region, the agencies said.

They said XTO also will implement a regional program of operational best management practices, including secondary containment for tanks used to store wastewater, improved standard operating procedures to reduce the risk of a spill, a prohibition on using pits or open-top tanks to store wastewater to 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-hr emergency phone number.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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