Obama Administration Sues Exxon for Polluting Pennsylvania Drinking Water with Toxic Fracking Waste

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
(photo: Ron Jenkins, Fort_Worth Star-Telegram/AP)

Having settled one water pollution case, an Exxon subsidiary is now facing a federal lawsuit alleging its hydraulic fracturing operations contaminated water supplies in Pennsylvania.


XTO Energy is accused of polluting groundwater with fracking waste from its natural gas well pad and storage facility in Hughesville, Lycoming County, according to the lawsuit.


The U.S. Department of Justice claims XTO Energy allowed flowback fluid and wastewater byproduct to reach water supplies.


The complaint says that “flowback fluid and produced fluid contain brine, proppant, hydraulic fracturing chemicals, dissolved solids, heavy metals and radionuclides.”


The litigation comes only days after the Exxon subsidiary agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and to spend $20 million to improve wastewater management practices involving its Pennsylvania and West Virginia natural gas operations. The improvements are to include installation of an alarm system that will warn plant operators of onset of spills.


In the settled legal case, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited a Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection inspector’s visit to XTO’s Penn Township plant, where wastewater was seen spilling from an open valve from a series of interconnected tanks. The identical combination of pollutants was found in a Susquehanna River basin tributary, which was traced back to the XTO plant.


The new lawsuit was filed almost simultaneously with media reports saying a “landmark federal study” commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy revealed “no evidence that chemicals from the natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers at a western Pennsylvania drilling site.”


The study’s controversial results were called “preliminary.”


Both the study and the lawsuit involve fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation.


The government’s lawsuit seeks civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day for violations occurring after January 2009, and an injunction against further violations of the Clean Water Act (pdf).

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Sues Fracker in Pennsylvania (by Erin McAuley, Courthouse News Service)

XTO Settles Federal Water Pollution Charges in Pennsylvania (by Nick Snow, Oil & Gas Journal)

EPA Halts Study Linking Fracking with Water Pollution (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Fracking Companies Buy Silence of Families with Contaminated Water (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

See all 14 comments


Gary Kuemper 10 years ago
Look up the movie FrackNation. The first commercial Fracking well was established in 1949 and millions of wells followed without any notable issues to date. Now after over 60 years there is protests over the proven practice of Fracking that has passed the test of time. This is just a nuisance Lawsuit or Lawfare a practice used as and is the punishment.
Colinjames 10 years ago
Whdre doss all the money go, the penalties not directed to cleanup? Bank fines, too. Seems i read about a bank or corp paying $Ms and $Bs every day to settle lawsuits, and where it doesn't go to plaintiffs, or if three govt is the plaintiff, where exactly is that $$$ put?
Jan Douglas 10 years ago
And this is DESPITE al those wonderful regulations we have! Just goes to show that a dangerous industry cannot be safely controlled through laws.
kathy edwards 10 years ago
When will we ever learn that we need clean air and clean water. We need to stop this distruction of this land we live on.
Anna 10 years ago
Gasland, parts I and II ~ ALL Americans must see. There is much information on fracking on the internet and not knowing about it is a choice. A rather stupid choice I will add!
Celine 11 years ago
Seriously??? agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and to spend $20 million to improve wastewater management... The improvements are to include installation of an alarm system that will warn plant operators of onset of spills. SERIOUSLY... an alarm system to let them know they are polluting the ground water again???? Seriously???? fine of 100,000. PLEASE TELL ME THIS IS A TYPO Obama.
William 11 years ago
Our strongest support for this lawsuit, long overdue. The EPA needs massive strengthening, the so called "Halliburton Loophole" needs to be closed. Slick water Hydraulic Fracturing should be banned. We favor serious criminal penalties for those who ruin peoples lives like those of Dish, Texas.
Val 11 years ago
Us Americans are kept in the dark because oil companies pay off the land owners not to disclose what fracking has done to their land, water, animals and health. Its documentaries like Gasland that we can learn about the disgusting way oil companies pay off people who have been destroyed by this and politicians who let it happen.
keldoone 11 years ago
The amounts being given as fines against Exxon are chump change. Here is a corporation that makes hundreds of millions every day (or minute; check the price at the pump) and the gov charges them $100,000.00? And then $375,000.00? What a joke? The idea behind a fine is to put the recipient into a hurt... why? So they'll think more than twice about doing it again! Here is a situation where Exxon could care less.. OH! of course, I get it! This is to make the government look good while Exxon performs the "oh woe is me, I've been bad" and pays a few pennies and laughs all the way to the bank!!! And we are led to believe the gov. is doing such a good job. Exxon and our gov. are in bed together with Monsanto etc... This IS a joke and The joke is on us.
Eva 11 years ago
Here in Poland there is such a propaganda in the mainstream media, they say that there are no problems with fracking in USA, no water pollution, no health problems, and that only "ecologists" (means "eco-terrorists") and spies of Russia and Gasprom can criticize the projects of the government to develop a massive shale gas industry. But rural communities have internet and can find the truth. They know that if the well pass through underground water reservoir, earlier or later the hazardous substances that stay forever underground will pass to drinking water, because the well will corrode and crack. The small village of Zurawlow is blocking for 7 weeks allready the works of Chevron (in English also):http://occupychevron.tumblr.com/

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