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Penn. brings criminal charges against drilling company

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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In a move that shocked the oil and gas industry, the state of Pennsylvania is bringing criminal charges against an ExxonMobil subsidiary for a 2010 wastewater spill.

Environmentalists are jumping for joy. “We have been very concerned about enforcement in the Marcellus, and we welcome the attorney general’s taking an active role,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced charges against ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy for “discharging more than 50,000 gallons of toxic wastewater from storage tanks at a gas-well site in Lycoming County,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Kane has charged the company with five counts under the Clean Streams Law and three counts under the Solid Waste Management Act. XTO is the first Marcellus Shale drilling company to face criminal charges.

“Criminal charges are unwarranted and legally baseless because neither XTO nor any of its employees intentionally, recklessly, or negligently discharged produced water on the site,” the company said in a statement.

XTO settled civil charges over the incident back in July and agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and also develop an improved wastewater management plan. The consent decree signed by the company did not include admissions of liability.

The announcement put the oil and gas industry on its heels. The company’s supporters argue that criminal charges were unnecessary for what’s being called an inadvertent spill.

“The incident has been fully addressed at the state and federal levels, and this action creates an untenable business climate that will discourage investment in the commonwealth,” said Kathryn Z. Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

However, environmentalists believe that Kane has been wanting to make a statement about shale drilling since she took office at the beginning of this year.

“She has indicated that she is on the watch for a criminal prosecution opportunity in the Marcellus Shale,” said Arnowitt.

However, the XTO case was referred to the state attorney general’s office by the state Department of Environmental Protection before Kane began her tenure.

“The prosecutorial powers of this office are used carefully and with great consideration,” a spokeswoman for First Deputy Attorney General Adrian R. King Jr. told the Inquirer. “We closely examine the facts and the applicable law in each case and proceed accordingly.”

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