Enforcement

XTO Energy, Inc. Settlement

(Washington, DC - July 18, 2013)  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, Pa. facility used for the storage of wastewater generated by natural gas exploration, commonly known as fracking, and production.  

On this page:

Overview of Company

XTO Energy Inc. (XTO) merged with Exxon Mobil Corporation in 2010.  According to XTO’s website, XTO is the nation’s largest holder of natural gas reserves and operates throughout the United States.  XTO owns interests in approximately 40,000 producing oil and natural gas wells across the country.

Top of Page

Violations

XTO violated Section 301 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1311, which prohibits the discharge of any pollutants to waters of the United States except in compliance with a permit issued pursuant to Section 402 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1342, as follows:

  • On November 16, 2010, XTO released between 150 barrels (6,300 gallons) to 1,366 barrels (57,373 gallons) of flowback and produced water into waters of the United States.   EPA investigated the spill and concluded XTO discharged pollutants into waters of the United States for a period of roughly 65 days.  Elevated levels of pollutants indicative of a spill of flowback and produced fluid, such as strontium, chloride, bromide, barium, and total dissolved solids (TDS), were present in both a surface stream (i.e., tributary of the Susquehanna River) and subsurface spring (i.e., hydraulic connection to the tributary).

Top of Page

Injunctive Relief

The two major aspects of injunctive relief are:

  1. requirements for recycling and disposal of flowback fluid and produced water and
  2. tank management best practices. 
  1. Recycling and Disposal of Flowback Fluids and Produced Water:
    • XTO is required to recycle no less than 50% per year of its total flowback and produced fluid from its Pennsylvania unconventional gas extraction activities. 
    • XTO may only dispose of fluids at NPDES-permitted facilities with a federally-enforceable permit limit for total dissolved solids of 500 milligrams per liter per month or less.
       
  2. Tank Management Best Practices
    • Ensure adequate secondary containment for all tanks during completion and production;
    • Ensure all tanks in secondary containment are located on an impermeable layer and will be installed/located in a manner so as to minimize external corrosion and leaks;
    • Ensure each open-ended valve or line associated with any tank is equipped with a cap, blind flange, plug, or a second valve;
    • Ensure each tank is equipped with a means of high-level shutdown and utilizes remote monitoring or alarm notification in case of a spill;
    • Ensure that flowback and produced fluid are not stored in tanks with an open top design;
    • Ensure that flowback and produced fluid are not stored in open pits, lagoons or other surface impoundments;
    • Ensure tank valves are secured with locks and standard operating procedures are developed and implemented so that all such valves will be locked except when active loading or unloading is occurring at any tanks; and
    • Ensure information is posted in a clear and conspicuous manner at each tank, including the contact information for XTO’s 24-hour monitored phone number.
    • For any interconnected mobile tanks utilized for the storage of flowback and produced fluid, XTO shall implement one or more of the following measures to protect against spills:
      • install adequate secondary containment;
      • configure tanks in a manner that provides adequate unfilled tank capacity for the purposes of containing spilled fluid;
      • ensure tank operating procedures reduce the risk of spills; and
      • employ other protective measures as approved by EPA.

This relief will require that XTO implement consistent practices throughout its operations within EPA Region 3 in order to prevent similar spills in the future. It will also establish a model for best practices for protection of public health and the environment.

XTO will spend approximately $20 million to implement the injunctive relief required by the consent decree.

Top of Page

Pollutant Impacts

EPA estimates that full implementation of the injunctive relief measures associated with this settlement will prevent approximately 263,574,926 pounds of total dissolved solids (TDS) from entering surface waters in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  The TDS reductions are attributed to:

  • XTO recycling no less than 50% per year of its total flowback and produced fluid from its Pennsylvania unconventional gas extraction activities.
  • XTO disposing of fluids at NPDES-permitted facilities with a federally-enforceable permit limit for total dissolved solids of 500 milligrams per liter per month or less.
  • XTO implementing tank management best practices.

XTO is required to submit progress reports to EPA over the next three years that will further quantify the pollution reductions associated with this settlement.

Top of Page

Health Effects and Environmental Benefits

Wastewater associated with shale gas extraction can contain high levels of salts or TDS, fracturing fluid additives, metals, and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM).  The quantity and quality of flowback and produced waters from shale gas varies from basin to basin, and over the lifetime of a well.

Top of Page

Civil Penalty

XTO will pay a $100,000 civil penalty to the federal government

Top of Page

Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

Top of Page

For more information, contact:

James C. Kenney, Engineer  
Special Litigation and Projects Division
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW (MC 2248A)
Washington, DC 20460 
(202) 564-4027
James Kenney (kenney.james@epa.gov)

Clarke Thurmon, Attorney  
Water Enforcement Division
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW (MC 2243A)
Washington, DC 20460 
(202) 564-5587
Clarke Thurmon (thurmon.clarke@epa.gov)

James Van Orden
Sr. Assistant Regional Counsel
EPA Region III
1650 Arch Street (MC: 3RC42)
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 814-2693
James Van Orden (v
anorden.james@epa.gov)

Top of Page